Bicolline, a huge LARPing town where people go to hit each other with fake weapons and wage a full-blown fictional war, is as far removed from Cory Finley’s interests as can be. He’s much more of a city boy, needing nightlife, coffee shops, and most importantly, cellphone service to thrive.
That is, at least, until Mitch mentions the costumes. She’s played an innkeeper there for the past three summers and she says Cory’s a natural.
“There’s so much you can do without ever stepping foot on a battlefield!”
Mitch knows him too well, and that makes her an amazing friend, but a dangerous foe. From then on, she only has to remind him how much he likes playing a character to pique his interest.
“No fair,” he hisses between his teeth. “You can’t use my lifelong secret dream of becoming a drag queen against me!”
Mitch is the only one he told — or rather, she guessed it about eight hours into their first Drag Race binge session, when she saw him, starry-eyed, watching with bated breath.
But Mitch gives her trademark angelic face and goes, “is it really against you if I know you’re gonna love it?”
After some obligatory grumpy banter, Cory finally agrees, and so, one sunny summer morning a few weeks later, he drives to her place all decked out in Tarmafisqó’s costume, a minstrel hired by Mitch — or rather, Marguerite the innkeeper — to provide entertainment at the inn. Brocade cape, feathered hat, pointy shoes, makeup, all in various shades of purple that look stunning against his light brown skin.
Mitch squees and hugs him. “We’re gonna have the best week!”
He’s still unsure about that, and nothing changes his mind until halfway through the second night. He’s performing on stage, a medieval take on his favourite drag icons, while Mitch serves enormous tankards of ale behind the bar when someone walks in and takes Cory’s breath away.
A short black man, dressed in wizard robes— or is he a sorcerer? Cory can never tell the difference, despite Mitch’s best efforts to teach him DnD lore — of midnight blue and silver, with a tall staff of carved wood. In spite of his imposing get-up, he sticks to the shadows, alone, shy-looking.
Cory’s always had a thing for the shy ones. He likes teasing, slowly pulling them out of their shell.
“Who, pray tell, is this dashing lord who entered our humble auberge?”
The wizard looks around, behind him, with a cartoonish who, me? expression.
“Yeah, you,” Cory says, forgetting his character in the process. He clears his throat. “I mean, certainly! Approach, darling Sire, do not fret!”
The boy shakes his head, trying as hard as he can to melt into the shadows. This one’s gonna be a tough one to crack, and Cory figures he needs some time. He gets on with his act: a song and dance, and a bit of comedy, while Mitch brings the newcomer a tankard.
Cory can feel the boy thawing from across the room, cracking a smile once in a while, tapping his foot in time with Cory’s tambourine. Granted, putting him in the spotlight wasn’t the right way to go about it, but Cory does want to get to know him. There’s something about the way he dresses all flamboyant but doesn’t want to be seen, that appeals to Cory. A rogue who wants to be a wizard, if he had to put it in Mitch’s fantasy terms. Intriguing.
After his set, when a man carrying juggling balls and a flute goes up to take his place, Cory makes his way to the boy’s table. “Want some company?”
The boy looks up. “Oh! Um, sure,” he says shyly.
He looks even cuter from up close. His dark cheeks darken in embarrassment, his incredibly long eyelashes flutter as he looks down.
Cory is smitten.
“I’m Cory,” he says. “Or, um, Tarmafisqó, around these parts,” he adds lamely.
The boy grins. “Sir George of Boydenbrook. Georgie.”
“Did you like the show, Sir George?”
To his surprise, Georgie smirks. “Yeah, not bad for a newcomer.”
Cory doesn’t know what brought the change in his attitude — maybe because the conversation is now on his turf, but there’s no two ways about it. It’s very attractive.
“How did you know?”
“The way you introduced yourself — and when you broke character on stage. You’re not used to your character yet.”
Cory gives him a you got me smile. No sense in hiding the truth — everywhere he goes, he’s out and proud and loud. “Yeah, I must admit I never thought I’d ever come here. Gay bars are much more my scene. How about you?”
“Been coming here for about four years.”
“So how come you’re alone tonight?”
Georgie gives a wistful smile but doesn’t answer. “Come on. Let’s go somewhere calmer.”
What the juggler-flutist lacks in talent (a lot) he makes up for in intensity, and they can barely hear themselves talk. Cory follows Georgie out of the inn.
A huge bonfire is going on in the square, with people singing and dancing around it. Still not it.
Georgie takes Cory’s hand to lead him through the crowd, away from the square, to another, smaller bonfire. Around this one, people are speaking softly, or silently watching the flames.
“Better,” Georgie says, and he lets go of Cory’s hand, avoiding his gaze.
They sit on a large log, in silence for a bit. Cory’s not the quiet type — he’s always got a quip, a joke, a sassy comment, but with Georgie… Cory feels like he should wait. Let him open up.
He keeps his eyes on the flames even as he feels Georgie’s eyes on him, searching, pondering.
“It’s my first time coming here as a man,” Georgie finally says. “My friends —” he shakes his head at the word like it’s not the right one — “the people I used to come here with… Most of them didn’t get it. People back home don’t either. But I figured it’s a good place to start over. Finally show who I’ve always been.”
“I’m sorry about your friends,” Cory says, bumping their shoulders together. “But I’m glad you get to be yourself at last. I’m not… we don’t have the same experiences but I get having to hide.”
Georgie smiles sadly. “Yeah, I thought you would.”
Cory understands then that he was just handed something rare and precious: Georgie’s trust. He wouldn’t have opened up to any stranger. He picked Cory because he’s, well, Cory.
Loud and flashy, big and brassy, but soft and vulnerable underneath it all.
He wants to be worthy of that trust. He almost wants to take a pledge, do some of these medieval honour pacts and wear Georgie’s colours or something.
Instead, he just offers a shoulder to lean on, wraps his arm around Georgie. Stays with him.
They stay like this until they’re the only ones around the fire, until it’s barely more than a few bright coals, and a knight comes out of a side alley.
“Georgie!” he calls. “Hey, man, I’m so sorry, the skirmish took forever. I didn’t mean to leave you alone all night like that, I know you don’t know anyone else here.”
“I’m not alone,” Georgie says, grinning. “David, meet Cory.”