Episode 1, Part 3
Toronto Pearson International Airport
January 19, 2022
Ashley sat at the counter of Tim Horton’s Express just ootside the Terminal 1 security gate, nursing a latte with her eyes fixed on the arrivals board. Air Canada Flight 1899 from Las Vegas was still marked On Time for its scheduled landing at 2:35 pm, just as it had been the last 20 times she checked.
Finally, the moment to which she’d been looking forward and dreading in equal measure arrived. Ashley rose from the counter and walked over to the reception area. As the throng of passengers streamed oot of the gate, she kept her eyes peeled for a familiar face until she suddenly jumped at the sensation of two hands grasping her shoulders from behind.
“Great to schee ya, Schweetheart!”
They wrapped their arms around each other for an extended embrace as Dylan softly stroked the back of her hair.
“You’re still beautiful.”
“thanks, dylan. you look great, too.”
“Yeah? Maybe our first stop after the airport should be the optometrist…but thanks for saying so.”
“actually, dylan, i don’t have a lot of free time today. matt invited some realtors over for dinner tonight and right now, he thinks i’m getting my nails done. it’s already been a pretty long nail appointment.”
“Ashley, relax. I’m home now and we’ll have plenty of time to catch up.”
“home? i still don’t understand why you flew into toronto, dylan. i mean, it’s great to see you — it is. but home is pretty far away, unless i’m missing something here.”
“Home is a state of mind, Ashley. Anyhow, if you can just drop me off downtown, there’s a condo I saw online that I want to check oot.”
“you mean you’re staying?”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking aboot it. But don’t worry, I’ll be plenty busy. Toronto’s a big place and I’ll be too occupied looking for gigs and N.A. meetings to get in your hair…unless, you know…”
Ashley smiled and grasped his hand.
“i’m so glad you’re home, dylan.”
Greenwich Village, New York City
Arseman and Leslie descended the escalator to the lobby of the Union Square Tech Space after a grueling 10-hour day spent in the futile attempt to locate the bug in their company’s new software. Ootside, they pulled their coats tightly around themselves to brace against the biting wind and began their usual Saturday evening trek to Christopher Street for their favorite weekly drag revue at Pieces. Both close friends and co-owners of Harrell Logistics agreed long ago that the only effective antidote to a long day of coding was a long evening of cocktails and queens.
Inside the establishment, they sat down at a table next to the stage and ordered up two Long Island Iced Teas from the world’s most beautiful woman in possession of an Adam’s apple.
“Good Lord, Leslie! Did you see him? I’d kill for cheekbones like that.”
“Maybe that’s why you’re still single, Babe. Gender dysphoria’s a bitch, ain’t it?”
“Oh, suck my ass! I don’t think I’ll ever meet a bigger fag hag than you.”
They burst oot laughing as the voice of the DJ filled the bar:
“OOOO-kay, Ladies and Gentlemen and Everything In Between! Let’s put our hands together for Pieces’ Precious Pearl of the East, Miss Jacqueline!”
Strobe lights danced across the walls and floors as Miss Jacqueline ascended the stage and the opening beats of “Groove Is In The Heart” caused their glasses to rattle on the table. As Miss Jacqueline danced around the pole situated in the center of the stage waving her feather boa seductively at the patrons, Arseman got a close glimpse of his face and nearly spit oot her drink. Leslie leaned over the table and shouted above the music:
“What’s wrong, Hun? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
“Yeah…I think I just did.”
As Dee-Lite faded into a drone of crowd chatter, Arseman got up from the table and ran over to the dressing room door into which the dancers disappeared after their sets. As Miss Jacqueline approached, Arseman caught his eye and glared hard until he finally noticed and stopped in his tracks.
“Oh my God – Arseman?!”
“Jake!!! How have—”
“Shhh, not here. It’s Miss Jacqueline until we’re oot of earshot.”
He grabbed Arseman by the sleeve and led her to the dressing room as she motioned to Leslie to hold tight.
“Have a seat, have a seat! Oh my god, Arseman, how wonderful to see you!”
“You, too, Jacqueline!”
“It’s Jake. This is just for extra cash, not a new identity. It’s so weird that you came in here tonight of all nights.”
“I hadn’t thought aboot Hillside and all you guys for the longest time…until yesterday – I got a call from Matt, completely oot of the blue!”
“Oh yeah? What brought that on?”
“You got a good stiff drink oot there on your table?”
“A Long Island.”
“Good, let’s go sit down and order up three more. Have I got some news for you!”
Sunset Las Palmas Studios
“Mr. Simpson, call time’s in 10 minutes if you want to come check oot the kids.”
“Thanks, Rose. I’m gonna take a rain check on that – go ahead and narrow the field down to five or six kids that look like good mutant candidates and I’ll meet them this afternoon. Oh, and don’t tell them they look like mutants. Tell them they’re talented actors, okay? Their parents eat that shit up.”
Alone in his dressing room, Bill looked at the unexpected message from Courtney again.
I hate it that we don’t talk. I’ve lost my faith and I don’t know what to do. Please call me when you can.
With a heavy sigh, Bill clicked oot of his messages and fired up a game of Toon Blast.
Metro Toronto Convention Centre
The auditorium was filled nearly to capacity as Brooke nervously fidgeted with the metal clasp of her purse. Her daughter Tabitha and husband Elliot were sitting on either side of her, but she paid them little mind as she scanned the room over and over, seemingly searching for someone or something of great importance. As the Master of Ceremonies returned to the stage to announce the nominees for the Accessory Designer of the Year Award, Brooke started to rise from her seat before Elliot grasped her arm.
“Brooke, where are you going? The Womenswear category is next.”
“I know, I’ll be back in a minute. I just want to go fix my make-up in the ladies room.”
“But you look fan—”
“I said I’ll just be a minute.”
Brooke eased oot of the aisle and walked to the lobby where she began searching the modest crowd of mostly disinterested spouses and teenagers milling aboot waiting for the ceremony to end. At last, she spotted her leaning against the bar holding a glass of champagne.
“Well, if it isn’t Stacy Collins!”
“Brooke, there you are! I got here a little late, so I didn’t want to go inside and miss you. I was hoping you’d come oot and look for me. You look great!”
“Thank you. And you’re still rocking the Nouveau Trash, I see.”
“I’m sorry, Stacy. Really. Old habits die hard, I guess. I really appreciate that you came.”
“Are you kidding? I was so excited to hear from you and now I find oot that you’re getting an award!”
“We don’t know that yet…but I didn’t invite you here to show off. Can you grab a drink with me after this is over?”
“Well, sure, but isn’t your husband—”
“He’s a big boy, he can find his own way home. I’ve wanted to reach oot to you for a while now, but it’s been so long and I couldn’t think of a pretense until I got this nomination. Things are bad, Stace.”
“What do you mean? I thought you were on top of the world.”
From the auditorium, the voice of the MC just barely carried to the lobby: “And the winner of the 2021 Womenswear Designer of the Year is…Brooke Morgan-Hoffman!”
A tear slowly cut a path down Brooke’s heavily mascaraed cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her palm and grabbed Stacy by the arm.
“Come on. I have to go pull off the performance of a lifetime.”
Next Up: Episode 2, Part 1
*Editor’s Note: If any sticklers for detail have been following this story, I know I originally had Ashley and Matt living in a suburb of Vancouver, but in this post, it seems they’re suddenly living near Toronto. I went back and changed their locale in the first post to stay consistent, because a plot I’ve envisioned needs them to be in the Toronto area for now.