Yanko poked at the last of his red velvet cake.
Marcus said, “Look at the crowd. I didn’t expect this many to show up.”
Yanko, Dieter and their friends had gathered at The Drake, the restaurant next to the Jolly Roger for dinner. They decided to dine outside and wait for the sunset vigil at the end of the pier.
“What’s going on?” Storm asked. He and his ten-year-old fraternal twin brother, Sky, sat between Aidan and JJ, their adoptive fathers.
Aidan said, “Remember that bad thing we saw on the news?”
Sky said, “You mean about all of those people being shot?”
“Yes. People are very upset. Tonight we’re going to the end of the pier, light candles and remember them.”
Storm’s face puckered up. “I don’t like it when people get shot.”
JJ pulled the boy to him. “No one does.”
Sky looked frustrated. “Did people do that when Momma and Daddy got shot?”
“Yeah, did they?” Storm asked.
Aidan glanced across the table at Innes. Clark, the boy’s father, had been their boyhood lover. Innes said, “We remembered them. But, sometimes you do it different when it’s a lot of people. Remember the funeral we had for your parents?”
Sky glared at him. “You weren’t there.”
Innes’ face turned red behind his beard. “It’s complicated.”
Kip, Innes’ husband leaned in. “Sometimes when you care a lot about someone and they die your feelings get all mixed up. Remember how angry you were at your parents for dying?”
The boys nodded.
“Well sometimes we need to be with other people when we mourn the dead and sometimes we need to be alone with our feelings. Storm, remember when you ran away down to your daddy’s boat to be alone?”
Strom nodded and rubbed his eyes. “They were all talking about little Mickey and no one ever talked about Momma or Daddy.”
Aidan reached out and touched his son’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry that happened.”
Storm nodded but looked away from him.
“So,” Kip continued. “All of these people want to gather tonight and remember. Talk about what happened and let the world know they aren’t afraid. Understand?”
Sky said, “Think so.”
Max, Marcus’ partner, looked out over the crowd. “There’s Megan and the others. We should join them or we’ll never make it through the crowd.”
The men got up, dropped tip money on the table and filed out to join the people heading toward the end of the pier. Dieter had his arm around Max, an older bearish man. They were both from Live Oak, a little village on the east side of the county, that had more than its fair share of unusual happenings and inhabitants. “You know,” Dieter whispered to him. “The dragons and faeries felt this go down. You think there was a dragon at Pulse? How connected do you think they are to sense something like that?”
Max stopped and gave him a look that was somewhere between anger and astonishment. “You’re asking me? I don’t ruddy care!” He pulled away from Dieter’s arm and hurried to catch up with Marcus.”
“Damn.” Dieter turned to Yanko but he was still sitting at the table poking at his cake. He went back and sat down next to him. Yanko didn’t look up. Dieter reached out and tucked a lock of this jet-black hair behind his ear, then ran his hand down his neck and stopped at his shoulder. He gave him a gentle squeeze and whispered. “Hey, there.”
He turned to him. Dieter reached out and wiped a tear from his cheek with his thumb. “What is it?”
“What is it? It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours yet. I feel like a racket ball that’s been slammed against a wall too many times. We’ve gone from shock, to horror, to worrying about fixing breakfast for people in a hotel, to crazy sex in a kitchen, and now we’re here.”
“Where should we be?”
“Shouldn’t we be with Gus and Luca? You saw them. Didn’t you see their eyes? It’s like they’ve died inside.”
“They wanted to be at home. Tamás is with them. Do you think being in this crowd would be good for them? They don’t need a vigil. They were in the middle of the fuckstorm.”
“There is something we can do.” Innes stood next to the table. He held out his hand to Yanko. “Brother Roma, will you stand with me, face the dying of the light and repeat the names as they are read?”
Dieter looked between Innes and Yanko. He didn’t understand magic and wasn’t inclined to delve into the madness, but he knew there was some sort rivalry between the druidic magic Innes practiced and Yanko’s Gipsy, or Roma, magic. It led to friction between the two, which annoyed Dieter.
“Brother Druid,” Yanko said and took his hand. “I will stand with you and face the dying light. We will say their names and offer a blessing for all the shattered lives.”
Innes pulled him up into an embrace. Yanko whispered, “So much pain in the air tonight.”
Innes whispered back, “We will bind what we can. From small sparks, great flames can arise.” He released Yanko and offered his hand to Dieter, “Come we don’t want to miss the sunset and the reading of the names.”
Dieter slid in next to Meg. She took his hand and said, “Dear Boy, can you believe the turnout?”
He scanned the crowd and wondered if there was a weight capacity on the pier. Then decided the police and city officials would keep that in mind. His heart swelled at the diversity around him. The whole rainbow that was Bennett Bay crowded around. Queer folk and not, singles, couples, and families with children of all ages. Every shade of humanity stood around him. A fierce pride in his community flared up in him.
A camera drone with the local TV station’s logo whirred overhead. “So who do you think will speak for the community?” he asked. He saw the mayor in the performance space that jutted out from the side of the pier. He didn’t want to hear from him again. Dieter hoped he had the sense that he was a guest at this event, not the focus of a press event.
Meg pointed at the people standing with the mayor. “Isn’t that Rev. Nita, from Pilgrim’s United Church, and Michael from the Rainbow Center?”
He nodded. A lesbian pastor and the director of the LGBT youth center would be good. A young black girl wearing a bright pink shirt, with the Rainbow Center’s logo on it, held a basket of vigil candles out to them. They each took a candle and the girl moved on.
Yanko grabbed a candle as the girl passed. “Innes and I are going to the end of the pier so we can face the sunset. Will you come with us?”
Dieter glanced at Meg. She gave him a nod. He kissed her on the cheek then stepped around her to give Tucker a quick hug. “Bro,” he said. Dieter turned and followed Yanko through the crowd.
Rev. Nita said, “Amen,” and touched her candle to Michael’s. He touched his to the people standing in front of him and the flame spread through the crowd. A few moments later, a lesbian couple in front of them, with two small children, turned and lit Dieter, Yanko and Innes’ candles. They exchanged tearful smiles, and then turned back around to face the stage.
Yanko and Innes moved to the railing at the end of the pier and Dieter slid between them. Innes held his candle up in his right hand. Yanko held his in his left. Dieter dripped a bit of wax on the railing, set his candle there, and took their free hands.
The red disk of the sun was a hand’s breadth from the Gulf. “We face the West. The direction of endings,” Innes said.
“We face the West,” Yanko repeated.
In the distance, Michael read the first name. The crowd repeated it. Then Rev. Nita read the next one, the crowd responded and so it went. Forty-nine names offered up to the twilight.
Silence spread among the crowd after the last name. There was nothing left to say. The people raised their candles above them in a last defiance of the darkness and then one by one the little flames were extinguished. For a moment, the pier was dark, then the shop lights came on and the fairy lights strung above the pier drove the night away with a warm glow.
Kip pushed his way through the crowd. He pulled Innes into a tight and prolonged bear hug. When they finally separated, Kip wiped his eyes. “Did you say your prayers?”
Innes nodded as he dabbed at his own eyes.
Kip gave Dieter and Yanko quick hugs. He said to them, “The guys are going to the Roger. Do you want to go?”
“Oh God, yes,” Dieter said.
“Damn,” Yanko said. “I have to catch a tram back to the Quarter. I’m on the night shift again. We still have a hotel full of folks to take care of. Life just keeps going on doesn’t?”
Dieter pulled him into a kiss then whispered in his ear. “I’ll stop by on the way home.”
“Something to look forward to,” he said. He turned and slipped into the crowd.
Kip put his arm around them and said, “Come on boys, let’s go pay tribute in our temple of flashing lights, mirrored balls, and thumpa-thumpa music.”
“And twinks in pirate costumes,” Dieter said.
“Arr matey, God bless the twinks!”
“Down old bear,” Innes said with a laugh.
Dieter looked up at the first stars shining in the night. God bless The Family, he thought.