“What?” Lucie’s face is sliding in and out of focus, but August thinks she looks nice. Pretty. She’s wearing a shimmery blue dress with a fur shrug and shiny ankle boots. August is so happy she’s here. “No, my friends are over there. Somewhere. I have friends, and they’re here. But oh my God, you look amazing! It’s so cool you came to Isaiah’s show!”
“I’m at my boyfriend’s show,” she says. She’s released August to return her attention to the plastic cup in her hand. Even two feet away, August smells pure vodka.
“Oh shit, Winfield’s performing tonight?”
“Yes,” she says. Someone brushes too close, threatening to spill her drink, and she throws an elbow out hard without missing a beat.
“When’s he up?”
The song switches to “Big Ole Freak,” and the cheer that goes up is so loud, Lucie has to lean in when she yells, “Second to last! Show starts soon!”
“Yeah, I gotta go! See you later, though! Have fun! You look really pretty!”
She pinches down a smile. “I know!”
August’s friends have elbowed their way right up to the edge of the stage, and the wave of bodies eddies her to them as the lights go down and the cheers go up.
The curtains look ancient and a little moth-eaten, but they shimmer when the first queen throws them open and strides out into the spotlight. She’s tiny but towering on eight-inch platform boots, wrapped in skintight green leather and sporting a pastel green wig laced with ivy.
“Hello, hello, good evening, Delilah’s!” she shouts into the mic, waving at the roaring audience. “My name is Mary Poppers, and I am here tonight representing Arbor Day, make some noise for the trees!” The crowd cheers louder. “Yes, that’s right, thank you, our planet is dying! But we are living tonight, darlings, because it is Christmas in July and these queens are ready to stuff your stockings, light your menorahs, hide your eggs, trick your treats, and do whatever the fuck it is that people do for Labor Day. Are you ready, Brooklyn?”
It starts off fast and keeps going—a “Party in the U.S.A.,” a queen named Marie Antwatnette doing a Bastille Day–themed voguing routine to “Lady Marmalade” that ends in frisbeeing French macarons into the crowd. Another queen comes out full-on New Year’s Baby in a rhinestoned diaper and sash and brings the house down with “Always Be My Baby” and some well-timed sparklers.
Second to last in the lineup is a queen introduced as Bomb Bumboclaat, and she stomps out in thigh-high boots, a saxophone thrown around her neck, and a red fur-trimmed dress with a matching cape. Her beard shimmers with silver glitter.
It’s not until the memory of Winfield’s one-man-band business cards swims into focus that August realizes who it is, and she screams on impulse as the number starts up—that ridiculous live Springsteen version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
“Hey, band!” Bomb Bumboclaat lip-syncs in Bruce Springsteen’s voice.
Mary Poppers sticks her head back out from the curtain. “Yeah! Hey, babe!”
“You guys know what time of year it is?”
“What time, huh? What?”
This time, the crowd shouts: “Christmastime!”
She puts her hand up to her ear dramatically. “What?”
Bomb Bumboclaat is pure comedy, all subtle hand gestures that have everyone screaming with laughter and throwing bills onstage and movements of her face that look impossible. She’s the first one to do a Christmas number at Christmas in July, and the crowd has been waiting. When she absolutely shreds the saxophone solo, the rafters shake.
By the time she’s done, the stage is littered in ones, fives, tens, twenties. Mary Poppers comes out with a push broom to get it all off the stage before the next number.
“Delilah’s! You’ve been amazing. We got one more for ya. Y’all ready to witness a legend?” Everyone screams. Myla snaps her fingers in the air. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, just what the doctor ordered—Annie Depressant!”
The curtains fly apart, and there’s Annie in her signature pink—pink Lucite platform heels, pink thigh highs topped with red bows, pastel pink hair cascading down the front of her pink chiffon robe and pinned up on one side with a glittering, heart-shaped fascinator. She’s absolutely stunning.
She preens in the spotlight, soaking in the screams and claps and finger snaps, flourishing her rose-colored latex gloves through the air. She’s never seemed anything but confident since August first watched her sip a milkshake at Billy’s, but seeing her on stage, hearing the way the crowd shrieks itself hoarse for her, August thinks about what Annie said about being the pride of Brooklyn. It wasn’t quite the joke she played it off as.
The music starts welling up with soft strings and twinkly synth triangle, a few drum beats, and then Annie snaps her eyes forward to the crowd and mouths, “Give it to me.”
It’s “Candy” by Mandy Moore, and the crowd has about one second to react before she throws her robe off to reveal a bra and miniskirt made entirely out of candy hearts.
“Oh my God,” Wes says, lost in the wail of the crowd.
Annie winks and launches into her routine, writhing down the catwalk that splits the audience, leaning in to drag her gloved finger down the length of an awestruck guy’s jaw on begging you to come out and play. August has always seen Annie and Isaiah as two sides of the same person, but the way she soaks in the light, the way her eyes drip honey—that’s a different person entirely from the accountant who moved August’s desk up six flights of stairs.
She spins gracefully back down the catwalk, beaming, glowing, burning at five hundred degrees—and the music drops out. Annie’s own dubbed voice comes in.
“Actually,” she says, “fuck this.”
In an instant, the stage lights switch to pink, and when Annie throws out her right hand, a flood of rain starts pouring down from the ceiling above the stage.
The music comes back funky and loud and ballsy—Chaka Khan this time, “Like Sugar”—and two things become clear very quickly. The first, as water splatters from the stage and into their drinks: this is why Isaiah suggested they might need ponchos. The second: Annie made her outfit out of something that dissolves in water.
Within the first thirty seconds, her miniskirt and bra have melted, and with a twirl, she whips the last sugary wisps across the stage, leaving behind ornate red latex lingerie. Backup dancers come sashaying out from backstage and hoist her onto their shoulders, spinning her under the falling water, the crowd damp and transported and screaming themselves hoarse. August grew up a short drive from Bourbon Street, but she has never, ever seen anything quite like this.
She thinks of the last text Jane sent: a picture of fireworks from the Manhattan Bridge, Give the queens my love.
It’s hazy, but she remembers Jane telling her about drag shows she used to go to in the ’70s, the balls, how queens would go hungry for weeks to buy gowns, the shimmering nightclubs that sometimes felt like the only safe places. She lets Jane’s memories transpose over here, now, like double-exposed film, two different generations of messy, loud, brave and scared and brave again people stomping their feet and waving hands with bitten nails, all the things they share and all the things they don’t, the things she has that people like Jane smashed windows and spat blood for.