Ring of Remembrance

I am woken by a voice snarling, “That’s the last time I take care of him!” I open my eyes to see Fernando angrily throwing a blanket at Santiago and Nick before stalking out.

“What was that about?” I ask sleepily.

“Nothing,” Nick mutters. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

I yawn and stand up. “Suit yourself. I’m gonna get dressed and head over to breakfast before all the coffee is gone.”

When I arrive at the main cabin, Morgan is snapping pictures. People keep calling her name and posing. They are smiling, but there is a sense of urgency about it. “It’s the last big party for a while,” she explains. “And some of us might not be here for the next one.”

“That’s a great idea,” I say. “Would you actually mind getting a few with me and Santiago? Like… engagement photos?”

“Sure!” she says.

I grab Santiago and pull her over. She rolls her eyes, but agrees to pose for  a few pictures. I also get a few with Artie, Charlotte, and Sinclair.

“Thanks, Morgan!” She gives me a thumbs up and walks off, her camera still making popping sounds.

I start heading back inside to get a plate but pause when I see Terrence sitting on the steps. I sit down next to him. “Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” he says back. He’s twisting one of his rings again. We sit together in silence for a few moments.

“Nice ring,” I say nodding towards it.

He hesitates, then takes it off and hands it to me. “Take it,” he says. “I can’t bring it with me where I’m going, anyway.”

“Terrence–”

“What’s for breakfast?” he interrupts me.

“Terrence. Stop it. You are going to survive this,” I say fiercely.

“No, I’m not, and we both know it. So let’s just stop pretending. I’ve got my affairs in order; I’ve made sure that Morgan and some of the Saratogans are on the lease. I’m making sure that things continue once I’m gone. And besides,” he says, gesturing toward the ring in the palm of my hand, “let’s face it – that’s gonna look a lot better on you.”

I stop arguing – everyone knows that there is no arguing with Mr T. “Fine,” I say. I slip the ring on my middle finger and flip him the bird with it. “Now let’s go get some food.”

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T and Me

Once Sinclair has headed back to his cabin, I peek into the Pillow Room. Fernando is there, but it is otherwise empty. “Quiet in here,” I remark.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think everyone else has headed off to bed.”

“Hmm. I’m not ready for bed yet. I’m gonna take a stroll around and see if I can find anyone.”

“I just did that a little while ago. I guess it’s possible, but seems unlikely,” he says.

“Couldn’t hurt,” I say.

I stop in the Darkroom first. The lurid gay porn is still playing, but the cabin is otherwise empty. I’ve never seen it so quiet; it’s almost creepy. I walk back out and head over to the main lodge. The grounds are quiet. I’ve resigned myself to heading back to the Pillow Room and sleeping alone, but stop in the main lodge anyway, just to make sure. I am surprised when I hear voices talking quietly.

“Hello?” I call out.

“Hey, babe,” I hear Santiago’s voice from one of the tables in the back. She is sitting and chatting with Sorrento. I sit down next to her and lay my head on her shoulder as she and Sorrento chat. A few moments later, Nick and Terrence walk in.

“Hey guys,” says Terrence. “What are you doing up?”

“I’m just waiting for my fiance to come to bed,” I answer. “What have you two been up to?” Nick flushes, and I laugh. I stand up. “I’m going to sleep,” I say, kissing Santiago’s forehead. “I can barely keep my eyes open. I’ll be in the Pillow Room, if you want to join me.”

“Is that invitation open to the public?” Terrence teases.

“Sure,” I say, “The Pillow Room is public domain. There’s plenty of room!”

“That sounds like it could be fun,” says Santiago, looking around. “Let’s all go!”

“Yeah, why not?” says Terrence. Nick shrugs.

I raise an eyebrow. “You fags wanna come cuddle with the lesbians tonight?”

“Not me,” says Sorrento. “You guys have fun!”

The four of us traipse off to the Pillow Room, which is empty. I guess Fernando found something else to do after all, I think to myself. I lay down with the pillow and blanket that I’d dropped off earlier. Santiago lays on one side of me, Terrence on the other. Nick lays on the other side of Santiago.

I turn onto my side and snuggle into Santiago, facing Terrence. Nick and Santiago are deep in conversation. I’m tired, but content to stay awake and chat now that I’m finally horizontal.

“So, you and Nick, huh?” I grin.

“Yeah, well. You know me…” he says.

“I sure do!” I answer. “You are the founder of these parties, after all.”

He is quiet for a moment. “Sometimes I wonder if they were a mistake. With all of the sex and everything…” his voice trail off.

No,” I say emphatically. “Terrance, these parties are where so many people have met and developed friendships and relationships. Hell, it’s where Santiago and I finally got together, and it’s where I proposed to her. Did you think that was spur of the moment?”

He smiles. “No, I guess not. Charlotte would never let you do something so big without planning every moment of it.”

“So true!” I pause, then reach out and take his hand. “It’s not your fault, you know, I say softly. “The disease? It would have spread regardless. But your parties brought people together.”

He squeezes my hand briefly. “They brought Kimberly and I together,” he says.

“I know,” I say. “She told me.”

He is twisting one of the rings he always wears, and I am suddenly nervous. Terrence never fidgets. “Terrance?”

“I’m positive,” he blurts out.

I freeze in shock. “What?”

“Yeah. I found out earlier today. I don’t expect to be around much longer, honestly.”

I feel as though the wind has been knocked out of me. Terrance? He’s one of my oldest friends. He’s a condescending know-it-all pain in my ass, but he’s my friend, and I can’t imagine the world without him.

“Don’t cry,” he says. “It will be okay.”

“I’m not–” I blink. Shit. I am. I wipe my eyes furiously. “This sucks.”

“It does,” he agrees.

“We’re gonna find a cure, though. We’re gonna get this place opened up and then–”

“Let’s not worry about the future,” he interrupts me. “Let’s enjoy the here and now.” He leans forward and kisses me.

I’m overwhelmed at the sudden surge of passion and tenderness that flows through my body. I kiss him back, wrapping my arms around him tightly.

“I don’t want to– can we just–” I struggle to find the right words.

“Of course,” he says. Changing the subject, he says, “Hey, did you see the shirt Eli was wearing earlier?”

We talk all night. It starts getting light out before my eyelids become too heavy to keep open anymore, and I succumb to a restless sleep.

A Test You Can’t Study For

I almost miss the opening ceremonies again. I hurriedly shove my lipstick into my purse leave the bathroom, wading through the crowd to find Charlotte and Santiago. A couple of people do a double-take as I walk past, and I grin. I’m wearing a long-sleeved gold-colored shirt with decorative cut-outs around the collar. The shirt stops just above my midriff, and I’ve matched it with a pair of plain black slacks. It was not my usual style to show so much skin, but I am having fun showing off a little. Besides, I no longer have a job that I need to “look professional” for. What I didn’t tell people was that the shirt had actually been a loan from Kimberly, and this was my way of making sure she attended the party with us, at least in spirit.

This year, Terrence has arranged for HIV testing to take place on-site. Santiago and I decide to head over and get it out of the way at the beginning of the party. There is a long line of folks ahead of us. We’ve both been safe since the debacle last year, but sitting in the waiting room is still nerve-wracking. I am next in line when I see Sinclair rush through the waiting room. He doesn’t even notice us sitting there. A moment or two later I see Nate rush through the room after him. I turn and give Santiago a worried look, opening my mouth to speak.

“The doctor will see you now,” says the nurse.

I stand up, and Santiago also stands. I turn to her. “It’s okay. I can go by myself.”

“I’m coming with you,” she says. Her voice is insistent.

I sigh. “I don’t need–” I stop when I look at her face, seeing the fear behind her eyes. I nod. “Okay.”

The nurse leads us into a room where the doctor is waiting. “Hello. Please have a seat. Can you confirm your name?” His bedside manner is cold, brusque. I pretend that I’m not bothered by it, and cover up my nervousness.

“Katherine Stockton.”

“And why are you here?”

“For the AIDS testing,” I say.

He studies me. “Hmm.” His face is expressionless, but I can’t help feeling judged. “Tell me about your habits.”

I take a deep breath. “Well, I’ve had some unprotected sex over the years, since the outbreak started. Mostly with women, but last year there were a few men…” my voice trails off. I’m still embarrassed about that night, especially with Santiago standing next to me.

“I see,” the doctor says. “And this is your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been together?” he asks.

“About three years now,” I answer.

“And you’re exclusive?”

“Well, no… but it’s pretty much just women.” The doctor is scribbling in his notebook and nods without looking up.

“We’re going to do a few tests.” He takes a few vials of blood and hands them to his assistant. The assistant leaves the room while the doctor scribbles some notes and Santiago and I wait silently.

A few moments later the assistant returns, handing the doctor a small slip of paper. The doctor reads it and then looks up at me. He is not smiling, and my heart skips a beat. “I have good news,” he says. I breathe a sigh of relief and sag slightly in my chair as he tells me that my results are negative. Santiago squeezes my hand, and I stand to let her take my seat.

The doctor goes through the same questions with Santiago, and takes her blood. I know that I’ve been riskier than her, so I’m pretty sure that she is fine… but I still let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding when the doctor tells her she’s negative.

We walk back through the waiting room into the hallway, giddy with relief. “Let’s wait for Charlotte and Sorrento,” Santiago says, gesturing towards the window that shows who is still waiting.

I nod. “Of course.”

A few moments later, Charlotte walks out. “Negative.”

“Thank goodness!” I hug her. “Santiago is just waiting for Sorrento, and then we can–” I stop when I see Claire over Charlotte’s shoulder. She’s walking slowly, looking dazed.

“Claire?” I ask. She looks up, and her face immediately crumples. Oh, no. I embrace her. “Oh, honey.” I stroke her hair. “It will be okay. We’ll take care of you. We all will.” I step back and Charlotte and Santiago also hug her, trying to sound reassuring.

Charlotte walks Claire back towards the party while I wait with Santiago for Sorrento. When he finally comes out, we look at him expectantly. He starts talking about something else when Santiago interrupts him. “So are you…”

He hesitates for a few seconds. “Oh! Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, shaking his head. “Negative.” I turn away to roll my eyes at his nonchalance.

No Escape From Death

I honestly don’t remember a lot about the morning after of 1983. It’s pretty hazy. I remember the ominous music, and I remember the Agents of Death demanding thirteen names instead of ten this time. I remember giving them three tickets again, especially since I’d been unprotected not only with women, but with men. I remember holding my breath as I listened to Pepper calling out people’s names. More than half of them were people that I knew and had recently interacted with in some way: Evelyn, Pen, Enrique, Mr T, Steven, Ruben, Abner, Trevor, Nick, Walter, Claire, Max… and Kimberly.

I remember my shock when I hear Kimberly’s name called, and my denial. There’s no way she’s going to die, I thought. She’s part of my group, one of my girls. I’m going to go down to the funeral field and she’s going to be fine. I think I really believed that, too… right up until I saw her laying in her coffin.

I remember waiting as the music continued playing, the only sounds in the room sobs and people shuffling about as they hugged and consoled each other. I remember the feeling of suspense as I wait for the Agents to come back and escort us down to the field where we would learn who passed. I remember the feeling of dread as I pause to peek into each coffin. The first one I stop at is Abner’s. I barely knew him, but he was a friend of Santiago’s, and I’d recently chatted with him about the possibility of including one of his poems in the Times alongside Sinclair’s interview.

I fling a flower onto his chest angrily. “Fuck you, Abner. And I’m still going to print your–” my voice cracks, “–stupid poem.”

I know before I even get there. Kimberly is nowhere to be found… she’s in one of these other caskets. I find her just behind Abner’s and look down for a moment, sobbing. I place a flower gently on her unmoving chest. “You fucking moron!” I gasp out between sobs. “I told you to be careful!” I am crying so hard that I can barely get the words out. But… it doesn’t matter.

The Agents call us back to begin the funeral. The Angel of Death stands before us once again. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Trevor.” It’s the same as last year: people hugging and sobbing. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Abner.” Grief, fear, determination, anger, sadness… all are present. “And we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Kimberly.” As tears stream down my face, all of my emotions war for dominance.

I wonder which one is going to win.

Saratoga Seeds

I am sitting outside on the back steps with a beer when Terrence approaches me.

“Hey, listen: I just wanted to give you a heads up. I’m thinking about buying this place.”

My brow furrows. “Why? Don’t you already rent it? What’s the point in buying it?”

“No no, not for parties. For like… rehab. I want to re-open the Saratoga Center, only as, like, a care center. For… us.”

I stare at him. “…us?”

He gestures impatiently. “For people who are sick.” My eyes widen in comprehension. “I figure I’ll put a few people on the lease. A Saratogan, and one of the lesbians – probably Morgan.”

Morgan? Why not m– someone more high profile?” I’m a little hurt that he didn’t think of me first; after all, we are much closer friends than he is with Morgan. I try not to show it.

He waves his arm again. “Whatever. We’ll figure it out. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know.”

“I guess Ruben finally got to you, eh?” I grin as he grimaces slightly. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s a great idea. And, uhh, if you need another name to put on the lease…” my voice trails off.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll let you know.”

Winds of Change

I’m outside watching the bonfire when I see Ruben coming toward me, looking agitated. “What’s up?” I ask.

“It’s just– we need to– People need to do something!” he says angrily. He’s waving his arms around emphatically. “We can’t just ignore it anymore. People are out here partying, and–” His voice trails off.

I shrug, holding my palms up. “I don’t–”

He cuts me off. “No. We can’t just sit around anymore. People are dying.

His words shatter the walls I’ve had up all night. “Well, what do you want me to do?” I ask angrily.

“You know what,” he says. He looks at me intently, his eyes boring into me.

I study him for a long moment before I answer, looking at his earnest face. I’ve known Ruben for a long time, and I’ve never seen him like this before. I nod slowly. “Okay.”

“Okay?” he echoes.

“Yeah. Okay.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “What do you want me to do?” I ask again, gently.

“For starters, you could print that interview with Sinclair,” he says.

I hesitate. Sinclair will kill me. “I’ll think about it.” Ruben opens his mouth to argue. “I’ll print something,” I say quickly. “I’ll make it happen.”

He looks relieved, and hugs me. “Thank you.”

Just then, Terrence walks by. Ruben grabs his shoulder, launching into a similar pitch as the one he just gave me. Terrence shrugs Ruben off. “No. We’re here to party. Can’t I just enjoy my own party?” Ruben begins shouting at him. I roll my eyes. I can’t really blame Ruben for being frustrated, as this has been an ongoing theme for a long time: Ruben wants to talk, and Terrence is only interested in having fun. Not wanting to get in the middle of yet another argument between the two of them, I leave them to it and go back to the bar.

Challenge Accepted

I sidle up to where Santiago is chatting with some people and nudge her. “Am I glowing?” I ask in a low voice.

She glances up and studies my face for a moment, then exclaims an incredulous, “Already!?” I laugh. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear she sounded jealous.

Still gloating, I saunter off, scoping out the rest of the party-goers. After a few moments, I spot Nick, a former co-worker from the Times.

“Hey, Katherine!” he says.

“Nick! So good to see you! What are you up to these days?” We make small talk for a few moments. I’m barely listening as we make niceties; years of my grandmother throwing parties for New York’s wealthiest has helped me perfect the art of pretending to be engaged when I’m not really all that interested. He tells me about some magazine he’s working for, how it’s been hard to get funding, etc. I nod and smile pleasantly, throwing in an occasional “hmm,” or “uh huh” in all the right places.

“What would really help is if I could get an interview with Sinclair,” Nick continues.

That gets my attention. “With Sinclair?” I glance over and notice that, much like a bloodhound, Claire seems to have found her way back to him. From the look on his face, she is grilling him once again. “Huh. Well, let’s go talk to him. I’ll introduce you.”

Nick’s eyes go wide. “Really?” he gasps. “That would be amazing!”

“Sure, come on,” I said, heading over towards where Sinclair is standing. “He’d probably love to help you out.”

I lead Nick over to Sinclair. “Sinclair, have you met Nick? He used to work with me at the Times.” The men shake hands, and Nick launches into his pitch. I space out a bit, scanning the rest of the party, cataloguing faces both new and old. I snap back to the conversation when I realize Sinclair is shaking his head uncomfortably.

“Out Magazine? I’m not sure that’s such a good idea…” Oh. Shit. I’d heard of it, it was a gay-centered magazine. Whoops. Perhaps my listening-without-listening skills aren’t as good as I’d thought.

“Perhaps the Times would be a better platform for this interview,” I interrupt. Sinclair nods in relief, agreeing with me. I see Terrence out of the corner of my eye. I should go say hello, I think. I clap a hand on Sinclair’s shoulder before I amble off. “I’m sure you guys can figure something out, though.”

“Terrence!”

“Katherine!” He kisses my cheek.

“Excellent party, as always! But, poor Sinclair. That Claire girl is badgering him and threatening to out him to his wife. We should do something.” I lean in conspiratorially. “Blackmail, perhaps? Do you have any dirt on her?”

Terrence shakes his head. “We’re not gonna blackmail her. Look, it’s fine. I’m the one who told her.”

My mouth drops open. “What?? Why would you–”

He cuts me off. “It’s fine. She needed to know. Don’t worry about it, it will all be fine!” He pats my shoulder condescendingly and walks off.

I watch him walk off, shaking my head in disbelief. “I hate it when he treats me like his stupid kid sister,” I mutter aloud to myself.

I make my way back to my friends, who are chatting with Morgan. Morgan is a feisty woman who comes off as a bit rough. She’s loud, she says what’s on her mind, and she knows how to get what she wants. I like her. But I am not really listening to the conversation; I’m already scanning the crowd for new prey. Claire was just too easy.

“Who’s that girl in the copper skirt?” I asked.

Morgan glances over and laughs. “Oh, good luck with that one – that’s Evelyn. She’s Chain’s sister, and she’s straight. Part of the Saratoga crowd.”

My eyes linger. “Straight, huh? Are you sure?”

Morgan laughs again. “Katherine, there’s your challenge for tonight,” she teases. “I’d love to see you try to seduce Evelyn.” Santiago and Charlotte look amused. Welp. I never could resist a challenge.

“I accept!”

Sin: Claire

I stand in a cluster with Santiago, Charlotte, and Kimberly, looking around as the opening ceremonies begin. As per usual, people have gathered into their little cliques. But last year, people had started to mingle more. Not only the usual cliques, but Terrence’s crowd and the Saratoga hippies had also begun to mix as we became more comfortable with each other. I survey the crowd and wonder what kind of trouble I should get up to first. As Dolly croons the last few notes of the Star Spangled banner, Terrence hands an American flag to Steven, one of the leather daddies, who mounts it to the flagpole.

As the flag rises up to sway in the breeze, Terrence greets us. “Welcome back to the party everyone! And thanks for coming out this year! I don’t know all of you nearly as well as I should, but I’m sure we’ll fix that before the end of the night.” He pauses and smiles devilishly at the knowing laughter from the crowd. “Anyway! Take care of each other, and clean up after yourselves. I’m not your daddy; if you want that, talk to Steven.” The laughter is louder and more appreciative this time, and there’s a smattering of applause.

Within the first ten minutes or so, I’ve got my sights set on Claire. She’s a hot young thing, and seems to be engrossed in conversation with my friend Sinclair Everett.

“Well, that’s not good,” Santiago is saying.

“What’s not good?” Kimberly asks.

Charlotte motions toward Claire and Sinclair. “That,” she says. “Sinclair is running for Congress, and Claire is his campaign manager. And she had no idea he was going to be here.”

“Oh. Sounds awkward,” says Kimberly, not sounding concerned at all.

Due to his political career, Sinclair is extremely closeted. He’s been married to his wife Mary for over ten years, and they have two adorable children. I’m not surprised that he didn’t tell his campaign manager that he was planning on going to Mr T’s “Big Gay 4th of July Party.” I glance over, and both are gesturing and looking upset.

Charlotte, Kimberly, and Santiago are still gossiping when I smile slyly and say, “I’ll take care of this.”

“I’m your campaign manager. I need you to trust me to act in your best–” Claire stops speaking as I approach.

“Darling!” I kiss Sinclair’s cheek. “So good to see you! And who’s your friend?”

“Katherine, this is Claire, my campaign manager. Claire, this is Katherine, a good friend of mine. She works for the Times.”

“For the Times? That sounds exciting,” Claire says eagerly, taking my outstretched hand. I look her up and down a little and hold her hand a little longer than is absolutely necessary. She flushes slightly.

“Yes, it is. I love my job, and I’d love to tell you allll about it. May I buy you a drink?” I ask, holding my arm out in the direction of the main cabin where Terrence has set up a bar and hired a bartender for the weekend.

She pauses, glancing at Sinclair. “Well… we were just talking about our next moves, and–”

“Oh, come on,” I protest. “It’s a party! You can talk shop anytime!”

“I guess one drink can’t hurt,” she relents. I smile brightly and place my hand on the small of her back, gently steering her toward the bar. I squeeze Sinclair’s shoulder reassuringly as I lead Claire away, and he mouths a silent ‘Thank you.

When we get to the bar, I survey the items quickly. “Whatever the lady wants, and a beer for me,” I tell Tony. “Put it on my tab.” I smile at Claire again, a predatory glint in my eye. We make small talk for a few moments before I casually place a hand on her waist and gesture outside with my chin. I am pleased when she nods without hesitation.

As I lead her back outside we run into a butch-looking woman. “Hey, Claire – what are you up to?” she asks.

“Hi, honey,” Claire says. “This is Katherine. Sinclair introduced us; she works for the Times. Katherine, this is Barbara, my girlfriend.”

“We were just talking about setting up an interview for a future issue. I don’t want to to bore you; you should go have some fun. I’ll be back soon,” Claire says smoothly.

Barbara smiles and waves us off with a laughing, “Don’t work too hard, this is a party!” but there’s a small shadow of doubt in her eyes.

I smile innocently. “Nice to meet you, Barbara!”

Claire and I continue on down the path for a bit when I spy a small clump of trees just out of view of any would-be onlookers. I stroll over casually, and she follows me. Once I’m satisfied that no one can see, I push her up against a tree and kiss her aggressively as my hands explore her body. Her skin is soft and smooth. I nibble her neck and push her shirt up, pinching and rolling her nipples. She gasps softly.

“Shhh,” I whisper in her ear, and bend down to take a nipple in my mouth. My left hand trails up her inner thigh as my right hand remains on her breast. She lets out a little whimper as I push her skirt out of the way. I grin devilishly at discovering just how wet she is. I cover her mouth with my own as I penetrate her, muffling her cries. It doesn’t take long for her to cum, her hips bucking against my hand as I fuck her hard.

“Holy fuck,” she says. “I needed that.”

I raise an eyebrow. “We’re not done yet.”

We switch places, and I hitch my skirt up around my hips before leaning back against the tree trunk. My dress is thin and the bark is itchy against my back, but I stop noticing when her fingers find my clit. “Yesssss,” I hiss. I rest my hands on her shoulders, and my nails involuntarily dig in as I get closer and closer to orgasm. I hold my breath as I cum in an effort to keep quiet, but a cry still manages to escape my lips.

After I catch my breath, we start to get dressed and straighten our clothing.

“I should, uhh, get back to Barbara,” says Claire awkwardly.

“Yeah, no problem,” I say easily. “This was fun. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

We come out from the clump of trees together and walk back over to the party. “Do you see– oh, nevermind, there she is.” Claire heads over to Barbara who is standing nearby. I see Barbara staring daggers at me out of the corner of my eye, but I ignore her.