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A NineStar Press Publication

www.ninestarpress.com

Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes

Copyright © 2017 Kevin Klehr

Cover Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017

Edited by: Jason Bradley

Published in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar Press, LLC.


Drama Queens

and

Devilish Schemes

Actors and Angels, Book 3

Kevin Klehr

Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

About the Author

Dedication

To Angus and his humour,

Clinton for his support,

and Warren, without whom these tales wouldn't exist.

Chapter One

It was like being in a Hollywood remake of The Jetsons, suspended in air and surrounded by cloudless sky, with interweaving conveyor belts shifting us farther to the front.

Behind me a couple of lesbians fidgeted while peering forward, trying to see where we were going. Below, another mix of curious folk deliberately moved forward on this mechanical mess of pathways. Above me, the same.

“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” asked one of the women behind me.

While she could pass for the girl next door, all made up with lips as red as a 1950s advert model, her checkered dress spoiled the effect with its huge smoldering burn mark.

“What happened,” I queried.

Her partner stuck out what was left of her tongue. It too was charcoal black with a melted piercing smeared all over it.

“Let’s just say, never get frisky outside while there’s a thunderstorm.”

She reached for her skirt and was about to lift it to prove her point. I clutched her wrist just in time.

“I get it. Your girlfriend’s stud became the conductor. I don’t need to see something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Her eyes widened. “Your life? Look at your chest!”

I released her arm and felt my heart. It was like someone had used too much starch while ironing my shirt. I examined a rusty brown stain on the crisp white cotton.

“I’ve returned, but this time for good,” I muttered.

“Wha uw ya awing awout?” said the one with the brittle tongue.

“What did she say?”

“I think she wants to know what you’re talking about.”

I stood on tippy-toes to see farther ahead, but all I saw was a long row of people waiting patiently.

“I’ve been here before, I think. I’m not sure.” I jumped high on the spot but still couldn’t see where we were going. “I guess that’s why I’ve got this frantic ink blot on my chest.”

“Sweet cheeks, it’s blood.”

“Yes, I know that.”

“So what’s your story? How did it get there?”

I felt it again. Its sandpaper texture began to crumble. “I wish I knew.” Bending sideways, I tried to steal a glimpse, but it was no use.

“Well, it’s not quite how I imagined it. I’m not sure it’s how you saw it either, Frida.” She held her girlfriend’s hand. “I was expecting tattooed angels parked on clouds with big black motorcycles ready to take us to Heaven.”

Frida nodded.

“What did you expect, um, what’s your name?”

“Adam.”

“Hi, I’m Sue.” We shook hands. “And this is Frida.”

“Ice oo eet yoo.”

“My pleasure.”

“So, is this the way you pictured it?”

“No, I can’t say it is. My partner isn’t here.”

“What’s his name?”

“Wade. We’ve been together for nearly nineteen years. Or at least, we were.”

“I’m sorry he’s not with you.”

I felt my bloodstain once more.

“Well, at least he survived, if what happened to me happened to him, if that makes sense?” I bit my bottom lip. “Actually I really don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Aw leees ee awive…”

Sue raised her hand like a cop stopping traffic.

“Don’t try to speak, darling. It looks like hard work.”

“Yeah, but I get what Frida’s trying to say. At least Wade’s alive instead of here.”

“A silver lining in the cloud.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

Below me a young chap in a Second World War uniform peeled off his gloves. His conveyor belt had stopped. An African woman wearing more colors than a rainbow tried to speak to him, but he seemed too traumatized to reply. She raised her arms in disappointment and began talking to the gray-haired woman behind her.

“Leopard print,” said Sue.

“Huh?”

“Check out the middle-aged woman in the leopard print, far behind us. Wow! She’s wearing more jewelry than a 1960s movie star.”

I looked. “I think she is a 60s movie star. Look at that beehive!”

“Jackie O she ain’t.”

“And look at the older woman next to her. A lollipop in a pantsuit.”

“Adam, how can they be from the 60s?”

“Now I know I’ve been here before.” I glanced ahead and saw the tip of a wing obstructed by the others on my conveyor belt. I couldn’t hold back my smile. “Sue, let me ask you something. What era are you from?”

“Nineteen ninety-three. Why? Aren’t you?”

I pointed to the man in uniform. Sue’s jaw dropped steadily.

“And what country?”

“Poland. And you?”

“Australia, twenty-first century.”

“You speak Polish well for an Australian.”

“Sue, I’m not speaking Polish.”

She shared stunned looks with Frida.

“Wha iz ee alking avout?”

“Girls, you’re about to enter a world I’ve been dreaming of returning to since I was last taken from earth before my time.”

“Maybe you should try Polish. I have no idea what you mean.”

Frida rotated her finger by the side of her head; a gesture to make out I was loony. Sue shrugged before carrying on a private conversation with her girlfriend about the family they’d left behind.

A few drops of water splashed on my face. I looked to the moving path above. A group of teenagers also from the 60s flower-power days stood shivering, saturated to the core. One long-haired guy, with enough swirls on his shirt to send you into a trance, saw me.

“Never do your own plumbing when you’re tripping, man,” he called. “I flooded the apartment.”

“Why didn’t you run outside?”

A naked girl with waist-length long hair clutched onto his arm. “I thought I was swimming in candy floss,” she replied.

“Candy floss!” he said. “I thought the sky had fallen and there was no escape.”

“Weren’t we in space, floating?” asked another.

I chuckled before bending sideways to look ahead. I saw half his body. My guardian angel, Guy. He acknowledged me with a kind grin. I was eager to jump to the head of the queue. I took a calm breath, stood up straight, and closed my eyes.

I already sensed his comforting hugs, letting me know I’d returned to safety. I could feel his strong wings wrap around me like an extra layer of armor. Nothing would harm me here in the Afterlife, not with him by my side.

“Adam’s here,” said another voice I recognized.

“Yeah,” Guy replied. “There’s something I need to explain.”

“Mannix?” I mumbled to myself.

Many passengers later I was at the front. I stepped off the conveyor belt onto thin air, and before a word was uttered, both the angel and my old friend wrapped their arms around me. I clutched them tightly, never wanting to let go. Huge smiles engulfed us all. Behind me were bewildered murmurs, as a stray tear from Guy softened my cheek.

“I’ve missed you,” I said to my angel. I kissed him tenderly on the forehead. “And I missed you too, Mannix.”

“Welcome to the Afterlife again,” said Guy.

“Why am I here?” I whispered. We stepped apart.

“I think this time you’re actually dead,” Mannix replied.

He sounded unsure, like a wife telling her tired husband that there might be a burglar in their house. He was still in his early thirties, just as he was the last time I was whisked off to the Afterlife six months earlier.

His sensual demeanor still warmed me in places I’m too polite to mention, even though his boyhood looks had faded slightly since we last met. A man was taking his place. A man wise beyond his years, wearing older-sexy like a stylish coat.

“Where’s Wade?” I asked.

“Sadly mourning your demise, my friend,” Guy said in a hushed tone. “Adam, we’ll talk about that later.”

I touched the dried blood on my shirt, crumbling it into tiny pieces that fell away.

“Guy, I need to know what happened.”

He turned to Mannix. “I’m releasing you from welcoming duties to show Adam his new home.”

“Which is where?” the young man asked.

Guy pulled out a key from his trouser pocket. “The apartment under mine.” He had a devilish grin. “Adam’s not the only one who needs a friend at the moment.”


“So you and Guy welcome the dead?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we call them new visitors,” Mannix replied. He sipped his scotch and Coke. “I’ve just started, but Guy’s been doing it for ages. He got a promotion when they put in the new conveyor belts. They needed to upgrade.” He looked around the room before leaning toward me. “Too many lost souls coming at once.”

I had showered and changed, and was now sitting with Mannix at a lavish bar called the Carousel in the Medieval Quarter. Two drunken men in full armor jousted with plastic toy swords in the corner while a topless woman with tassels on her perfect breasts attempted to tango as she ignored their clatter. Some drinkers shared their attention between the drunks and the playful dancer, pointing and chatting as if they considered themselves boring by comparison. But to me, they were just as fascinating.

The last time I’d visited the Afterlife, I was still alive, because Guy felt the need to take me away from my earthly dramas. And once again, the supporting extras still intrigued me in this land of the dead. After all, this part of the Medieval Quarter was known as the Carnival of Lost Souls. A fitting description.

“There’s something bothering me, Mannix.”

“Besides not knowing how you died.”

“Well, there’s that, but…”

One of the armored men collapsed to the ground with a thud. A tall woman in a lime backless dress stood up and applauded. I clapped briefly before I realized that no one else was taking her lead. A barman strolled over to check on him.

“Adam, you were saying?”

“My new apartment looks a lot like mine and Wade’s back in Sydney.”

“We do that. I know it’s unsettling at first, but it helps new arrivals fit in.”

“But how did you do it? The couch is the same. My stereo is the same, just without the television. The kitchen is kind of the same, just in a lighter color.”

“Adam, this is the Afterlife. We’re masters of pulling things from thin air.”

“But doesn’t it seem odd to you?”

“I’ve had more time to get used to it.”

“This whole place, it’s like an ethereal version of Earth. There’s running water. Electricity. Music collections. Food and alcohol.” The waiter came to refill my glass of merlot. “But you know what, Mannix? I’ve never seen a toilet. Come to think of it, I didn’t need one the last time I was here.” The waiter nodded before going back to the bar. “And besides that, the only thing that points to this place being the Afterlife is a bunch of people hanging around bars in period costume from a hell of a lot of eras. And, of course, there’s an angel. Take that away and we may as well still be alive.”

“Maybe your wine is the blood of Christ?”

“Don’t go there, Mannix. If it was, I’d be more enlightened.”

An assortment of bizarre collectibles adorned small shelves on the walls. Some looked like rejects from a charity shop. Other’s seemed too precious to be gathering dust. A detailed figurine of a girl walking her shih tzu sat next to a clay horse’s head, so lifelike it seemed more a freaky attempt at taxidermy.

Each table also had an ornament sitting on it. Ours was a vintage doll with a wonky eye. I picked it up while watching a fiendish man in a leather jacket striding up to the topless woman.

“Mannix, is Guy still with that boyfriend of his?”

“You mean Joshua? What made you think of him?”

I pointed to the man who was now trying to touch the woman’s tassel. She took his delinquent hand and slapped it.

“I see your point, Adam. He reminds me of Joshua too.”

“Yes, with the same personality it seems.”

As if written as their cue in a play, Guy and Joshua entered the Carousel that very moment. Joshua was in his angel disguise, with a slight emo twist highlighted by black feathered wings. When he was his demon self, the wings were still black, but resembled those on a bat. Small horns were also part of his natural look, but when he slummed it in the Afterlife, he couldn’t get away with being himself. The only clue to his true form could be found in his reflection, as I discovered when catching a glimpse of his likeness in a drinking glass.

They headed for the bar, Josh gazing at me briefly as if I was the only witness to a murder he’d committed.

“Mannix, what does that beautiful angel see in that sarcastic demon? And why is an angel going out with a demon?”

“Between you and me, I think it has less to do with romance and more to do with the fact that Joshua knows where Guy’s parents are.”

“Oh yes, I forgot about that. Guy never met his folks. Something about being brought up by a fortune-teller, wasn’t it?”

“Shh. They’re almost here.”

Guy plonked a large champagne bottle on our table before Joshua landed four glasses next to it.

“It’s not peer pressure. It’s peer support,” he said. His black wings fluttered.

“I’ll drink to that,” Guy replied. They both sat. “So, Adam, how do you like your new flat?”

“It’s spooking me out.”

“From memory, everything spooks you out,” replied Joshua.

“Only when it has dark wings and a ‘try hard’ attitude.”

“Now, now, boys,” Guy said. He popped the cork and began to pour. “I don’t want my two favorite men—”

Mannix faked a cough.

“Sorry, three favorite men bickering. I need to celebrate!”

He slid my drink toward me.

“What’s the deal with that cock-eyed doll you’re holding?” Joshua asked.

I looked at the toy’s face. “I forgot it was still in my hand.”

“You’ve been using it to punctuate your gestures ever since you picked it up,” said Mannix.

“It must be my security blanket.”

“Don’t worry,” said Guy. “A few celebratory drinks will ease your nerves.” As the champagne reached his mouth, his glass became wobbly.

“Are you already drunk?” Mannix asked.

“I just had one drink before I came.”

Joshua peered down his nose.

“Okay, maybe two."

Joshua’s eyes now looked to the ceiling.

“No seriously, only two.”

I gazed at Mannix who nodded discreetly. I then peered at Joshua who seemed to have trouble smiling.

“Why did you start without us?” I asked.

“I want to celebrate your arrival,” Guy replied. “After all, Adam, I’ve missed you.” He raised his glass. “To an old friend becoming my neighbor.”

We clinked, then sipped.

“Now that the formalities are over, can you please tell me how I died? That was a nasty bloodstain on my shirt.”

“In time, Adam. I need to ask for a favor, first.”

“You need my help this time? Of course, my angel buddy. What is it?”

He looked to his lover.

“Guy is going to meet his parents,” Joshua replied.

“And I need moral support.”

I reached for his hand. He grasped mine gently.

“Wow. I’d consider it an honor to stand by your side, old friend. Where are they?”

Again he looked to Joshua.

“That’s a secret for now,” Joshua replied.

“Why?”

The black-winged immortal shook his head so only I would see.

“He won’t tell me,” said Guy.

“Adam, I suggested you should be here when he meets them,” Joshua replied. “I know how much he respects you.”

I glanced at Mannix.

“He said the same thing to me,” he declared. “For whatever reason, Joshua wanted you to be here to support Guy.”

“But Guy has both you and Joshua. Why wait till I died? Are you recruiting an ensemble cast for the reunion?”

“It’s difficult to explain,” said Joshua. “The more friends he has here, the better.”

Guy let go of my hand and topped up his champagne, then drank. He put the glass down, unsteadily. I picked up the doll and stared at its imperfect face.

“Wow, I just arrive and already there’s mystery and adventure. I need Wade by my side to share it with. I’m missing him terribly. I just wish I knew how I died.”

“Adam’s right, Guy,” said Mannix. “I think he needs to know what happened.”

“The secrecy is killing me. Oh wait, I’m already dead. Okay, the secrecy is driving me mad.”

“All right,” Guy answered. “I’ll take you to see Wade. That’s all I can do for the moment.”

“Can’t you also tell me how my shirt got covered in blood?”

“No, I can’t.” He reached for my hand this time. I put down the doll and clasped his soft palm. “You have to work out what happened for yourself, Adam. It will start coming to you. That’s the way things work here.” He clasped tighter, but somehow I suspected he didn’t actually know himself. “But I guess if I take you to see Wade, your healing process will begin.”

“My healing process! Shouldn’t I know how I died first? Why don’t you tell me before we see Wade?”

“Now that you’re here, you need to take one step at a time. Come to terms with your demise, calmly. If I tell you everything up front, you might find it too hard to handle.”

I sighed.

“I know this is hard to take in, Adam,” Mannix said, “but Guy’s right. I’ve made the mistake of telling someone too much too soon. It wasn’t pretty.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“A loving parent was poisoned by his kids for the inheritance money. Years of therapy followed here in the Afterlife.”

“Oh dear. I wasn’t murdered, was I?”

“Trust your guardian angel. Let him guide you.”

Guy stood, and as we were still holding hands, I too was lifted from my chair.

“Adam, it’s time to start healing,” he said. “Let’s see Wade.”

Chapter Two

“Can he see us?” I asked.

“No, Adam, he can’t see us at all.”

We were standing in my old bedroom where Wade was checking something in the wardrobe. I was still holding hands with Guy, and he made sure we took our champagne glasses with us.

“Can he hear us?”

“He has no knowledge of our presence.”

“What’s that man doing in our bed?”

I took a huge swig of my drink. This good-looking bearded dude huddled under the duvet, watching Wade check the closet.

“Seriously,” Wade said to his companion, “there’s no one here.”

“Check under the bed,” replied the stranger.

“You’re joking, aren’t you?”

“No, it’s just a ritual I need you to go through.”

“This isn’t part of some kinky fantasy, is it?”

“No, Wade. I do this every night.”

“For goodness sake, why?”

“I don’t want to be attacked if I fall asleep.”

“Jerry, you’ve just met me for the first time tonight. How do you know I’m not going to attack you?”

His one-night stand didn’t answer. He simply quivered under the covers.

“Guy, what on earth is going on?”

“Wade is getting sex.”

“Thanks for pointing out the obvious, but why is he looking for sex? I’ve just died, for goodness sake!”

My guardian angel wobbled slightly before letting go of my hand and steadying himself on my shoulder. Jerry opened the bedside drawer.

“What are you looking for?” Wade asked.

“A knife. A gun. An axe.”

“Why don’t I just get into bed with you so you can stop this silly nonsense?”

“I don’t know. You’ve got me thinking about this murderer thing. Have you killed anyone?”

My husband sighed. I felt my chest where the bloodstain once was.

“Guy, he didn’t? No, not my Wade. I’ve known him for nearly nineteen years and…” My celestial friend stayed poker-faced. Not even his eyes, of which the whites resembled mini roadmaps, gave anything away. “Come to think of it, Wade has a fascination with horror films.”

“Adam, stop overthinking. Just watch and learn.”

That man in our bed leisurely pulled down the duvet. He was unusually thin. I could’ve picked him up by the neck on laundry day and used him as a clothes-peg.

“Guy, do I really need to watch this?”

Wade moved toward him with the grace of a first-time actor in a porn film. As Jerry lay back, spreading his legs, I had a mad urge to pull on his foot and make a wish. My partner climbed on board, nestling his forehead into Nervous Nelly’s beard.

“Your husband’s got technique, Adam.”

“Yes, I know, but do we really have to stay?”

“You want answers, don’t you?” He stepped closer to the bed. “And there’s a lot to learn here.”

“Guy, you’re drunk, and quite frankly, you look like you want to join in.”

He gave me a sheepish grin.

“Guy!”

Jerry whined like a mother hyena who’d misplaced her kids.

“Adam, trust me. This is where your healing begins.”

“I hope you’re getting your kicks from watching this, because I’m definitely not.”

“I’m getting ‘lovemaking’ tips.”

Wade opened his mouth, sliding it onto his lover’s. Soon they were at it like two teenagers with their braces caught.

“I didn’t know kissing could look so unattractive,” I said.

“Wow. Wade’s very sensual.”

“Guy, can I upsize your voyeurism with a side of fries?”

“Relax. Don’t forget I’m your guardian angel. I’ve seen you and Wade at it plenty of times.”

He hiccupped, covering his mouth. I swigged the rest of my champagne.

“Roar,” groaned Jerry. “Let me do something to you that you’ll never forget, Wayne.”

“It’s Wade.”

“Huh?”

“My name’s Wade.”

“Let me do something you’ll never forget, Wade.”

Jerry started licking my husband’s armpit like a dribbling mutt. My man moaned in gratitude.

“I never realized Wade was into saliva.” Guy shrugged while peering right into the wet underarm action. “Come to think of it, I never realized he was into thin bearded men.”

“What was that?” asked Jerry. His slobbering came to a halt.

“What was what?” asked Wade.

“That noise?”

“What noise?”

“Wade, go and check downstairs.”

My old man looked hesitant, but this thing he’d brought home looked at him with puppy-dog eyes. Wade left the bed and wandered down the hall. Guy and I followed. He marched around the living room before trudging to the bathroom, making enough noise for lover boy to hear from our room. He opened the cupboard and reached for a prescription box of tablets I’d never seen before. He popped two pills and quickly followed them with a gulp of tap water from the palm of his hand.

“Oh, Adam, why did you leave me like this?”

I looked over his shoulder and read the packet. Valium. Wade was hooked on valium!

“Guy, what’s going on? Why is he taking those pills?”

But my angel guide gestured toward Wade.

“Why did our relationship have to end like this?” my beautiful man said.

“Wade, I love you, but what are you talking about?”

I knew he couldn’t hear me, but maybe in his thoughts I could get through. He leaned against the basin, staring blankly.

“You left me, Adam, long before our time.” A tear trickled. “What am I saying? Your spirit had left me long before you ever did.”

“Guy, I need to know what he’s talking about.”

“Adam, I really can’t tell you. Not yet.”

My angel’s words were slurred, but his mood was sober.

“Why can’t you tell me? Wade’s in pain. Did I do something?”

“If you were still here, Adam,” Wade moaned, “we could talk about your feelings. Why you went and did the things you did. Now I just have to live with unfinished business.”

Wade sighed in a groggy fashion. He didn’t hurry back to the saliva queen. As I looked to Guy for some kind of relief from seeing my lost lover in torment, my lost lover buried his head in his hands and sobbed quietly.

Chapter Three

Later I was back in the Afterlife, sitting alone in my apartment. Outside it was autumnal. Trees stood naked as if their spirits had drifted in search of a friendlier season. Flowers kept to themselves, too cold to show their glory. I wanted to hibernate with them, within my walls.

There wasn’t a chance I could leave this god-awful place and breathe real air again; to live among the living. I wanted to shower with Wade, soap his back, dry his body, and kiss away all his pain. I’d then make love to him as if nothing mattered.

There was a knock on the door. I didn’t answer. Guy let himself in.

“Wasn’t my door locked?” I asked.

He wiggled his wings several times before he looked nauseous. “Oh dear.” He put his hand to his mouth. “That fluttering wing thing I was struggling to do was me trying to say that your door was locked, but I’m an angel. I can pretty much go anywhere.”

“You look like something the cat dragged in.”

“I tried to have a nap but tossed and turned instead. I wouldn’t be a good guardian if I didn’t come back and help you through this.”

“I’m not sure you’re a good guardian now. Visiting Wade was hard. Why did you do that to me?”

Guy rested his palms on his temples and collapsed into an armchair. “I had to start somewhere, Adam.” His head drooped “I know it was hard. But no pain, no gain.”

“I don’t want catchphrases. You’re supposed to be my friend. I mean, the last time I was here, you really helped. But you’re being all secretive about how I got here. Why can’t I remember?”

“You’re not alone. Everyone who comes here doesn’t remember how they died. It’s too traumatic for them to deal with right away.” He met my gaze with a soft smile. “If our new arrivals knew every detail of how they died, then we’d be spending all our time passing out boxes of tissues.”

“Then pass me the tissues. I need to know.”

He leaned toward me, but I crossed my arms in anger.

“Adam, think about this. If you knew, what would it solve? It’s another layer of hurt you’d need to push through. But Wade’s missing you. That’s the hurt you need to deal with before anything else.”

“Then let me talk to him!”

“I can’t! You’re dead!” Guy shut his eyes. “I’m sorry, Adam. I didn’t mean to shout. I go through this every day with our grieving newcomers. And trust me, they grieve just as much on this side as they do back on Earth. And if I could take their pain away the moment they arrived, I would. But what would that achieve? Lost souls in ignorant bliss, caught in a moment devoid of reality. Even an angel has his orders. I can only do so much.”

I sat silent. Somewhere my partner in life was suffering and I’d abandoned him. For the first time in the better part of two decades, we were no longer a team. Yet both of us felt each other’s absence like a deep wound.

“Guy, I’m sorry.” I shook my head. “Okay, I get it, I’m dead. But it hurts. I had the perfect life and now I’m here, and from what I can piece together from the small amount of evidence I’ve gotten, I died through no fault of my own.”

“Yes, Adam, that’s right. But don’t make that your starting point.”

I tilted my head back, wanting to scream.

“No, hear me out. You heard Wade’s grief asking why you did the things you did. Your memory will gradually return, and I’m here to help you deal with it.”

I stared at him like an emotionless zombie.

“I love you, Adam. I chose to be your guardian angel because you’re a gentle soul. And here and now, I need that gentle soul to be my friend.”

He offered his hand. I shook it begrudgingly.

“Can I do anything for Wade while I’m here?”

Guy stood, releasing my grip. “I’ll be right back.”

He tottered out my door like a personal assistant about to search for an important file. When he returned, he had a joint in one hand and a lighter in the other.

“No, that’s not what I need right now.”

“It’ll dull the pain.”

I considered it before shaking my head. He laid the gifts on the coffee table. I stared at them, slightly tempted.

“Go on,” said another voice. Joshua had entered the room. “It’s been rolled from a plant in my secret garden. Trust me, one puff and it will be like a kaleidoscope of all your favorite television shows back on Earth.”

“Why are you being nice to me, demon?”

His bat wings raised him an inch from the ground and landed him next to my chair.

“And why are you here?”

“I asked him here to help me cheer you up,” Guy answered.

“But you were only gone for a minute.”

“I was invited about an hour ago,” Joshua replied. “I made myself comfortable upstairs waiting for Guy to get back.”

“Look, I appreciate you both being here, I guess. No, let’s get real here. I appreciate Guy being here, but as for you, Josh, I’m not sure.”

“Darling, I can be a great help too. I’ve seen it all, done it all, and been responsible for it all…” His finger rested on his chin. “Oh who am I kidding? I’m here for the weed.”

“Joshua!” his boyfriend cried.

“Okay, I’m here for Adam as well. He’s the most entertaining human I’ve met. He can amuse me for hours, even when he doesn’t know I’m watching.”

“Look, I don’t care if you smoke weed,” I said. “But please, not here and now. Go back to Guy’s place.”

“He doesn’t want us, lover. He wants to wallow in his own tears rather than dance to our tune.”

“I’m sorry, Adam,” Guy said. “We’ll leave you in peace.”

As they reached the door, something inside made me call out to them.

“Oh, what is it now?” the demon asked.

“Um, I don’t really want to be alone.”

Guy rushed to my side.

“And if it means I have to have both of you here, then I’ll man up and deal with it.”

“Adam’s more confused than a mood ring on a manic-depressive.”

“Joshua, let’s change the subject,” said Guy.

“Good idea,” I replied. “Sit down, both of you. But please, save the weed till later. I just want to talk about something other than Wade.”

“Are you sure?” Guy asked.

“Yeah. If I smoke now, I might get paranoid and freak out over what happened.”

Joshua casually made his way to the two-seater. Guy joined him.

“Let’s talk about…” I looked out the window.

In the distance, a woman tossed a ball to her toddler. He clapped his hands and jumped in the air, ignoring the ball. A small girl dressed in a cape, as if walking to grandma’s with a basket of goods, stopped, picked up the ball, and gave it back to the mother.

“Adam, we haven’t got all day,” Joshua said.

“Let’s talk about Guy’s parents. I remember that you said you never met your parents and that you, Joshua, know where they are.”

“Got it in one, Earth Boy.”

“So where are they?”

The demon pursed his lips.

“He won’t tell me,” Guy replied.

“It’s complicated,” said Joshua.

“Ah, so I’m not the only one subjected to secrets.”

Guy’s fluttered his wings thrice.

“Okay, if I remember correctly, an aunt raised you.”

“Auntie Jemima. A woman in love with life, although I didn’t give her enough credit at the time.”

“How come?”

Joshua laid a hand on Guy’s knee.

“I think that when you’re separated from your parents, and you know it, it makes you feel less special. After all, you need your parents to teach you to fly. Give you your independence. Make you feel free.”

“She didn’t teach you?”

“She couldn’t. You see, she wasn’t my real auntie. Just someone who raised me after I was abandoned long before I could remember.”

“I still don’t get why she didn’t teach you to fly.”

“She wasn’t an angel. I was almost a teenager when I realized she physically couldn’t be related to me.”

“But you would have worked that out long before your teenage years.”

He placed his hand on Joshua’s.

“That’s the thing. As a kid, I sort of knew but didn’t want to know.”

“How awful.”

“More awkward than awful. Especially in my teenage years. You know what they’re like. Every emotion is amplified.” He exchanged glances with his lover. “I eventually used Aunt Jem’s lack of wings as a reason to be rebellious.”

I stared outside again, pondering why Guy had parents. Didn’t God simply create angels? Clouds were parting in the sky, adding light to the street scene. The toddler was jumping around even more now, as if a sugar hit had taken hold.

“Wasn’t there someone around to teach you to fly?” I asked.

Guy moved his hand away from Joshua’s.

“I tried to teach him to fly when we were teenagers,” the demon said. “I had more faith in him than he had in himself.”

“Nice one, Josh. Civil conversation with me. You should do this more often.”

He poked his tongue out.

“I wish I’d shared your faith in me at the time,” Guy confessed. “I took out my low self-esteem on my Aunt Jem. Keeping my distance from her. Hardly eating. She tried her best to cheer me up, but I felt way too sorry for myself. I was a flightless loser.”

“Well, you almost flew when we were teenagers,” Joshua avowed.

“Does that mean you still can’t fly?” I asked.

“Oh I can fly,” he said. “Many years later, I befriended someone who popped into the Afterlife for the short term. He made it his unofficial mission to teach me.” He lowered his head.

“So where are Guy’s parents, Josh?”

The demon looked at the ceiling. “I can’t say.”

“Oh come on, Joshy. At the Carousel you said you were waiting for me to get here to support our friend’s quest for his parents. I can’t believe you’re keeping something like that from him. And for this long!”

“Trust me. I can’t tell you yet.”

“Your boyfriend was drunk when I got here. Now he’s hungover, but he still brought over a joint. This is not the Guy I remember. What have you done to him?”

“I’m a good boyfriend.”

“Really, Josh? Really? What does a demon know about fragility?”

The spineless lover stood. “I’m a better friend to him than you’ll ever be.”

My guardian angel also stood. “Joshua!” he screeched. “You are addressing Adam, my friend. You were waiting until he got here to go fetch my parents. Now you’re changing the rules.”

“I am not changing the rules, dear boyfriend.” Joshua’s tone was measured. “But some things need to wait. That’s what you tell the newly dead all the time.”

“Yes, and the newly dead have enough to deal with, without your sarcastic tone added to their real life dramas!” Guy’s booming voice made my apartment shake. “But in the end, I guess a leopard can’t change his spots.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean, you alcoholic do-gooder?”

“Maybe both of you should stop,” I said. “Before things start being thrown.”

“Oh, Adam, darling,” Joshua sniped, “we’re just acting like human beings. I’m sure you’re used to seeing that.”

“So, I’m an alcoholic do-gooder, am I? And what kind of demon are you? One who hides himself in this world disguised as a trampy cherub? You’re hardly cupid, you know.”

“Heavenly friends, let’s calm down,” I muttered, but my words got caught in my throat. “I mean really; I don’t want lightning bolts ripping past me.”

“I wear that angel disguise so I don’t freak out your precious dead folk. Give me some credit!”

“Oh, is that it, Joshua? You can’t just be yourself?”

“Oh please. This troop of halfwits you have to help out are only here because they’re the unstable lot. The failures. The duds.” He pointed at me. “And if you can’t see these losers are what’s keeping you on their level, then maybe I made a big mistake.”

“Josh, watch where you point,” I mumbled. “I don’t want to be turned into anything slimy.”

“And that’s your whole problem, lover,” Guy replied. He stood beside me. “You have no soul. You’re a dark demon. Devoid of empathy.”

“You are so fried half the time that you hit out at the people who actually care.”

I shuddered at his vicious voice.

“Can you blame me? You know where my parents are and you won’t tell me! Of course I’m a wreck. And I’ve got the dispossessed to deal on top of your secrecy.”

I picked up the joint from the coffee table. “Ah, that’s what we need,” I said. “Mother’s little helper. Who wants to light it?”

“And your precious dispossessed are your life, Guy. Not me. Not my needs. Not my love.” The demon turned toward my front door like an aging actress about to make a dignified exit. “And for some misguided reason, I thought we were right for each other.” He walked out, never looking back.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

Guy wiped the corner of his eye, then snatched the joint from my hand. As it hit his lips, it sparked with a crimson flame.

“I never got to have sex with him,” he suddenly blurted while half smiling, as smoke blew in my direction.

Chapter Four

Guy spun like a whirling dervish in slow motion to a dance beat in the background, while his wings flailed like a mad woman arguing with the world. Soon he was bouncing on the spot, summoning the ghost of a witch doctor casting an evil spell on his ex-lover. And all through this crazed dance was a little boy “so close” at finding his lost youth.

I too was dazed and stoned, staring out the window, searching for answers that I knew weren’t there. The emotionless trees whispered in the night air. They were in control of this landscape as there was no one in sight. Humans had been painted out of the picture, insignificant to a backdrop that existed only for my angel and me.

“Do you like this track, Adam?”

“Well, it’s keeping us upbeat. Isn’t that why you put it on?”

“I’m in disco paradise! Come dance with me.”

“Guy, don’t get me wrong. I like it. It’s just a little, um…” He stopped his one-man show. “It’s just a little camp. Last time I was here, you played sixties psychedelia. Hey, we’re off our faces. That’s what we should be listening to.”

“I don’t need to trip on my morbid thoughts, Adam. I need good vibes. I need release.”

I rummaged through the record collection. A colorful assortment of snazzy artwork eased past my fingertips. Seventies divas with attitude posed next to frizzy-haired backup singers. Silver balls and neon lights ignited dancers in loose toffee-toned clothing. Two young men in safari suits stood next to a woman wearing ferns. They were in the wrong hunting party.

But then I was welcomed by sophisticated funksters in mod attire. I had found the acid jazz section.

“Let me get our groove on.” I pulled the vinyl from its sleeve. “Here we go. Jamiroquai. It’s music to keep coming back to.”

Guy extended his waving fingers, as if trying to hypnotize me. I peered into his sneaky eyes and grinned. Soon his ass found its swing and his body followed. I boogied up to him, matching his rhythm.

“Why do you get stoned so often?” I shouted over the music.

“So I feel like I’m in a Baz Luhrmann film.”

“But why the escape?”

“Angels need to find themselves as much as mortals.”

“Wow. So this is your escape?”

“Confidence is a hard won mistress.”

“But Guy, you can’t crumble. You’re my rock.”

He grabbed my wrist and swung me around. The ambient light sparked my creativity. I looked to him as my own playboy millionaire. His crystal-blue eyes and imaginary dark suit made me melt, as they had done for so many other bachelor hopefuls. But now I was his, and his alone. His private jet had been chartered just so he could visit my ordinary life. His butler had treated us to French champagne. I put down my glass as I sprung back into his arms, but he quickly threw me to the wind.

My apartment disappeared to make way for an army of tango dancers. Their mass of frenzied feet drowned the music. Rat-a-tat-tat! One man with a blond curl caught my eye as he spun past with his partner. I swayed until my lover whisked me back, twirling like a goddess in flamenco heels.

He was warm. Hot, in fact. His wings engulfed me. A historic building in a rosy hue shimmered behind him. Errant heels echoed down the streets. I swooned as his face turned into the latte-skinned man I had left in the mortal world.

I jolted out of his arms.

“What’s the matter, Adam?”

My apartment returned in a flash.

“You were Wade.” I turned down the stereo and collapsed onto the lounge. “Oh, Guy. I’m missing him.”

Guy sat next to me. “Look at us,” he said. “We’re two tragic romantics.”

“But your man is still in this world. Mine is a lifetime away.”

“Adam, I can’t go back to Joshua.”

My jaw dropped.

“No, hear me out. We’ve had no sex because he says he wants to wait. And he’s been playing with my mind about my parents. I can’t take anymore.”

“He’s a demon, Guy. Was it a good choice to begin with? Even if he does know where your parents are, can you trust him?”

“I know he knows something that he’s keeping from me. He waited for you to get here to give me support.”

“But what if I died when I was older and not in my forties? You’d have a long wait.”

“I would have brought you to this point in time.”

“Oh yeah. There are advantages to being an angel.”

There was a loud clanking sound coming from outside. A horde of medieval soldiers marched down the street. Behind them, a small blonde girl frolicked in a tutu and a necklace of flowers, as if she was declaring the arrival of spring.

“I swear this place gets nuttier every time I visit,” I said.

“One of them is Tyson from the apartment next to mine. It’s the night of the Harlequin Dance at the Carnival of Lost Souls.”

“Of course it is. And they’re off to fight a metal dragon that shoots aluminum foil from its nostrils. And that little girl is really a femme fatale in disguise who just needs something to wrap her husband’s body in so it won’t go off in the fridge while she’s waiting for a quiet night so no witnesses see her dispose of him in the muddy creek frequented by the neighborhood’s teenage lovers. It all makes perfect sense. This whole place is the theater of the absurd!”

“You’re missing Wade, aren’t you?”

I nodded. “And I’m starting to feel something went terribly wrong in our final days. Well, besides the fact that I had blood on my shirt. My mood since I’ve been here has been a deep shade of melancholy, although I’ve tried to hide it.”

“What do you think happened?”

“You’re not going to tell me, are you, Guy?”

A second team of armored men made their way past our building. They were followed by a shirtless dude with a chest as hard as iron. His gold turban and loose pants were in need of a flying carpet. I shook my head in amusement.

“Adam, what do you think happened in your final days?”

“There are men. Or there’s another man. I think. He’s striking. Brooding, almost.” I tilted back my head. “Is it someone I’m jealous of?”

“Think about it, Adam. Concentrate.”

I closed my eyes. “I know the feelings but can’t see a vision. There is a man, I’m sure. He’s giving me a sense of understanding. But is it Wade who’s making me feel settled, or the man?”

“Maybe they both do in their own way?”

I peered at Guy through one eye. “Guy, how did Joshua make you feel?”

“Why are you changing the subject?”

“Curiosity.”

His wings fluttered briefly. “At first, annoyed. We were like two alien beings from different planets. But then he became gentler in his approach.”

I snickered, not meaning to.

“Yes I know he’s blunt, but you don’t see him like I do.”

“Guy, come on. Mr. Charming he ain’t.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry. It’s your story. I’ll shut up.”

“As I was saying, there is something sexy about him. And beneath that façade of sarcastic wit, there’s a sensitive soul.” He turned to me, grinning, but soon lost his smile. “Seriously, Adam, he is sensitive.”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t.”

“I know. But it’s that look you just had on your face.”

“What look?”

“Like a parent listening to their son telling them he’s got a crush on his teacher.”

My jaw dropped.

“Adam, I know you better than you think.”

“Guy, light that joint again. You might not like what I’m about to say.”

Chapter Five

I chickened out in expressing my opinion to Guy. Well, at least for the moment. I encouraged him to take me to the Harlequin Dance instead.

Three tall jokers frolicked with their faces painted white. A club symbol, usually found on a deck of cards, decorated one of the men’s cheeks. Another man had a spade while the last had a heart.

A woman, sporting a snug bodysuit with black and yellow stripes, buzzed around us, wiggling her stinging tail. A man with camp spirit straddled her lethal tip, laughing as if he’d just heard a clever joke.

Somewhere a piano accordion played. Elsewhere a mandolin was stroked. A whirling blaze of rainbow hues and fragrances weaved by me and through me. I shook my tush as Guy moved his wings as part of his own inspired dance.

“I wasn’t this stoned when we left your place,” I said.

“Adam, this is called being high on life.”

“But I’m dead.”

“But your soul is living!”

The armored men also joined in rhythm, clanking at the same time. Their clumsy attire made them stumble. Their rusted headwear screeched as they opened their visors to drink glasses of ale. And all the while, women avoided their boyhood bond.

Yet somehow, their friendly jeers made them safe in their own company. Their manhood was merely an expression borrowed for the night. But in the morning their testosterone would be locked up again in safety deposit boxes until next year.

“Guy, I’m not dressed for this. Everyone’s in costume.”

A little boy whisked past in a red go-cart, startling me. I wrapped my arms around my angel for comfort. His wings were gone.

“Do you like our outfits, Adam?”

Diamond shapes in cobalt and pale blue covered my arms. As I shook my head, I felt the droopy extensions of my hat bounce. I was a harlequin.

“Yes, I like it. It’s pretty neat. And, Guy, you’re not an angel anymore.”

“I’m in disguise.” His jester outfit was subtly highlighted by different shades of white.

“Did you tuck your wings somewhere the way drag queens tuck their…?”

“Tonight with you, Adam, I’m a man. A mortal, if you like. And I’d like to talk man to man about Joshua.”

A smoky mist drifted through the crowd. A harp accompanied an ethereal female voice. But with all this sensory overload, all I could see were my angel’s arresting eyes.

“Guy, how do I put this?”

“Just say it.”

“I don’t think he’s right for you, whether he knows your parents or not.”

“But it’s nice having someone around.”

“My dear guardian, even you should know there’s nothing lonelier than a relationship that isn’t working.”

Behind him the fog drifted apart like a theater curtain. A small anime girl was in its place. Her vocals became one with the harp.

“Joshua can be kind, Adam.”

“Really? Is it when he’s sleeping?”

Guy smiled with affection. “He kisses in a way that keeps me warm.”

“Anyone can kiss you that way. But is that enough of a reason to be a nervous pot-smoking drunk?”

He giggled before melding his lips with mine. This messenger of love didn’t use his tongue. He didn’t need to. Inside I felt like a superhero. Untouchable. Open to those in need.

His slender fingers tickled the back of my shaven skull, as my hands leisurely explored his well-formed back. We were dreamers heading down a road of miscalculated adventures.

But then he rubbed his nose against mine, arousing parts of me that an angel shouldn’t toy with. My mouth tingled for more of this divine addiction as that Japanese song whispered in my ear.

Why am I flirting with my guardian angel? Am I missing Wade? Am I stoned or just making the best of being dead?

Guy moaned softly. His voice in harmony with the Asian girl. But the harp begged for attention through its mystical sighs, until the female voice screeched. Our embrace was murdered by manga.

“Why did you stop?” my harlequin man asked.

“I’ll explain shortly,” I replied. I looked around. No mist. No anime girl. No harp. “But I have a point to make, first.”

He stood serenely. His eyes fixated on mine.

“And what is that point, Adam?”

“Was it as good for you as it was for me?”

He smirked.

“That proves my point. Anyone can kiss you and make you feel the way Joshua does. But how does he make you feel the rest of the time?”

“Confused. Stroppy. Annoyed. But on the other hand, kind of special.”

“And that can sound like real love. Maybe it is. But, Guy, you have to sort out the confused, stroppy, and annoyed. Otherwise you’ll become a lesser version of yourself.” I held his hand. “Now, when does he make you feel these bad emotions?”

“Sometimes he says things that make me feel invisible.”

“Like what?”

He looked to the ground. “Joshua snuck into my bed the other night. I stirred, trying not to become fully awake, but he kissed me on the cheek. I lurched at him, tasting his mouth. Soon we were at it, kissing. The sheets were thrown from the bed. Pillows scattered. You get the picture.”

“That doesn’t sound like you’re invisible.”

“But then he stopped. No explanation. No sex. He gave short answers when I questioned him.”

“What did you ask?”

“I asked why he stopped. He said he wasn’t up to it. I checked him downstairs. He was up for it.” My wicked guardian grinned. “I asked why we couldn’t take it further. He said he was tired. I jumped on him, wanting to ride him. But he was snoring.” Guy’s alluring eyes shared their sorrow. “I stayed awake for ages, just lying next to him.”

“How can someone that looks like he invented original sin be so frigid? I mean, whether he’s disguised as an angel or slumming it as a demon, he’s hot!”

“Maybe it’s me? Maybe he’s not that into me?”

“Then why stay with him, Guy?”

“Because he knows where my parents are.”

“So keep him as a friend. He’s keeping your motor running but isn’t ready to take you for a drive. Pop him in the garage and find someone better.”

“Perhaps, Adam, I’ve just found someone better.”

“Me?”

He nodded.

“Guy, you believe in the love Wade and I share, more than anyone I know. So why did you make a move on me?”

“You didn’t resist.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Perhaps I gave in to mortal tendencies.”

“Then can I please have my angel back. He makes more sense than us stupid humans.”

We stood as ourselves out of costume amongst the mayhem.

“So, Adam, what made you break our embrace?”

“That singer’s voice reminded me of an ear-piercing scream.” I rubbed my chin. “Do you know the voice I mean? She was a little Japanese lass here a moment ago.”

“The soundtrack to our kiss. Yes, I heard it.” He pointed to her in the distance.

I had to raise myself on tippy-toes to see her. She was with a tall man who stroked a harp like a tai chi instructor waving tranquility out from thin air. The girl herself sat on the ground, flapping exotic fans as she sang to a small crowd of children.

“As I said, her voice reminded me of a scream. I know I heard one just before I died. I’m sure of it. I remember being with someone I love, but it’s not Wade. So tell me, Guy. Who was I with the night I died?”

Chapter Six

I did something I wasn’t supposed to do. I visited Wade without my angel guide. Somehow he looked older. About three years older.

A young dark-haired man was let into our home by my gentle widower. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, but his rebellious jacket and torn jeans looked like he was about to cruise some back room.

“You said your name was James?” Wade asked.

“That’s close enough,” the young man replied.

“And the cost is two hundred dollars?”

“Yes, paid up front.”

My husband had hired a rent boy. What a strange thing to do. So out of character for the man I’d spent eighteen years with. I’m dead for a moment and he’s calling up the candy shop! He led this plaything to our bedroom.

“I’ve never done this sort of thing before,” my old man admitted.

“Neither have I.”

“Seriously?”

“No, I mean I do this all the time. For money, I mean. Not that I don’t do it for no money. But while I’m at work, I do it for money.”

“James, you’re a newbie.”

“Well, it’s not like I haven’t had sex before.”

“Yeah, but I could’ve picked someone from an internet singles site if I wanted just anyone. Today I was going to treat myself.”

“Please don’t send me back to the agency. I’m really good at it.”

“At what in particular?”

“At anything you want, big boy.”

Wade screeched with laughter. So did I. Fortunately no one here could hear me.

“Sir!” James shouted. “I’m ready and willing. At your service one hundred percent.”

Wade laughed louder.

“Mr. James, you’re selling yourself too hard.”

“I always believe that I should give my all.”

“Looking at you, sweetheart, half of what you’ve got on offer is enough for my two hundred dollars.”

“What is it you’d actually like me to do for you, Peter?”

Peter? My Wade had a fake name for this occasion? If he had to have a pseudonym, surely he could have come up with something better than Peter. Trojan, perhaps? Conrad or Miles. But Peter?

“James, I think I need a spit and polish.”

Oh please! He might have given himself a lame name, but his dialogue was straight out of forgotten VHS porn. Long live Jeff Stryker.

James undid Wade’s belt before leisurely unbuttoning his fly. I should have picked my visiting hours more carefully. Maybe when Wade was brushing his teeth or at work. I would have preferred a killer hangover to watching the man of my life “getting it on” with someone earning money to pay his university fees.

“Yes.” James drooled. He lingered on the middle vowel for added effect.

No. I watched him slobber over his lips. I left the vulgar scene and made my way to the lounge room.

A bit shabby. New furniture was scattered here and there, but none of it matched our old lounge suite. My favorite framed movie poster, which usually hung above the armchair, was replaced by some abstract monstrosity.

There was, however, a few Modern Living periodicals in a pile on the characterless coffee table. Featured on the cover of the magazine sitting on top was a kitchen to die for, if that was at all possible in my current circumstance. Dark red cupboard doors with knotted wood benchtops. Divine! I crouched to take a closer look, only to notice the mysterious date. This edition was published a year and a half after I’d died!

From the bedroom, Wade sounded like a soprano aiming for a note he couldn’t reach. I snuck back to have a look. I knew every expression on his face. Bliss. Delight. Ecstasy. He was moving on with his life without me.


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