Zachary braced himself with his left hand precariously against the step ladder. He heard the clinking of the crystals that made up the Baccarat chandelier that he was holding onto with his right hand. The chandelier was more than a century old, with an antique French crystal design and a bronze frame. His arms were starting to tire from being in the same position for more than ten minutes.
“Please tell me you’re almost done,” Zachary said, a weary tone in his voice.
A tuft of blond hair peeked out on the right side of the chandelier. “Would you quit your bellyaching? Just be thankful this is the last chandelier to go up.”READ MORE
Zachary and his friend, Sasha, had spent the entire morning hanging chandeliers. It was the first step of a long-term project to restore the Lonesome Pine Ballroom, considered the jewel of Shawano County almost seventy years ago. It was a place for the elite to gather, the community to celebrate and the poor to feel just a little bit richer, even if only for one night.
In recent decades, the ballroom had seen little use and had fallen into disrepair. After the ballroom had closed its doors the first time, a couple of businessmen had tried to open a fancy restaurant in the building about thirty years ago. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the wherewithal to make it a success, so Lonesome Pine sat, boarded up, for more than twenty years, unloved and unwanted.
That changed a few months ago when the county historical society purchased the property and embarked on plans to restore the ballroom to its former glory. Representatives planned to turn it into a place where fundraisers could be held for the historical society, but first the money to restore it needed to be raised. Being the historical society, it couldn’t be transformed into a completely modern facility. A lot of the fixtures had to look historically accurate, which was why Zachary and Sasha had been hanging antique chandeliers.
Fortunately, Zachary had been putting together a fundraiser that, if successful, could put the historical society well within reach of its one hundred thousand dollar goal. It was a little on the wild side, but since he’d already sold most of the tickets, that was a good sign the event would be a success.
“Zachary Gagewood! Have you completely lost your pea-pickin’ mind?”
The shrill voice spooked Sasha so much that she let go of the chandelier, and it was pure luck that Zachary managed to keep it from falling to the ground. He looked toward the front door and saw Vera Greenwood, the tourism manager for the county Chamber of Commerce. Her lips were pursed, and her eyes had narrowed so much, you couldn’t fit the crack of dawn between her lids.
“Vera, always a pleasure,” Zachary said as he lifted the chandelier up to Sasha. “However, you might want to bring your voice down from foghorn level, considering we’ve got priceless antiques in our hands.”
Mission not accomplished. “Just whose bright idea was it to hire boys wearing dresses to raise money for the ballroom? I’ve received almost fifty complaints by email and phone over the last three days from village residents and the surrounding towns claiming we’re letting deviants take over the area.”
Zachary sighed. “Okay, for starters, they’re drag queens, not just boys in dresses. Second, they’re not deviants. They might get a little racy, but everything is suitable for adults, who are the ones buying the tickets for this little shindig in the first place.”
“No amount of money is worth the angry emails I’m getting.”
“We have sold more than a thousand tickets for the drag shows leading up to the gala, which is going to be held right where you’re standing. We’ve also sold four hundred tickets out of five hundred for the gala itself. Gala tickets are a hundred dollars each, and the drag show tickets are thirty bucks. Do the math, Vera. How much money would you be turning away just because a handful of ignoramuses living in the Dark Ages are afraid of men who look prettier than their wives?”
Vera made a couple of faces as she looked like she was trying to add up the profit in her head. Then her eyes widened, and she let out a whistle. “Oh my God! That’s more than any other event this county has ever raised.”
“So tell the closed-minded nitwits to quit standing in the way of progress.”
“I second that,” Sasha said. “This fundraiser is genius, having the drag queens do a big show and helping to lead a community dance, as well as auctioning off some big-ticket items and passing around baskets for additional contributions. Besides, if you ever saw these ladies in action, you’d know that they’re nothing like the goofy guys from the Leopolis summer league team who wear discount rack dresses in all the area parades.”
“Not that we don’t love those guys, too,” Zachary said. “In fact, they’re going to make a cameo appearance at one of the weekend shows with the pros. That should be very entertaining.”
Vera scratched her head. “Well, this is quite the dilemma. We’ve got some of the religious leaders in the village up in arms, not to mention a few of the more affluent families in the area, and they’re threatening to take their case to tomorrow night’s village board meeting. Yet we’ve got the potential to raise all this money.”
“It’s not just the money being raised now, Vera. Once Lonesome Pine is restored to its former glory, we can host community theatre productions, hold other major fundraisers close to home. Vera, this place has such potential. Why would anyone want to throw it all away because they’re disgusted by guys in gowns and wigs?”
“I have to admit, the idea seemed weird when I first heard about it, but now that you’ve given me a better view of what it entails, I see the benefits.”
“Then can we count on your support?”
“Shoot me an email later today with more details about the event. I’m supposed to be on WSHW tomorrow morning as a guest on Chat Over Breakfast, and it’d be a good way to explain to a mass audience why this is a good thing—perhaps drum up a little more support.”
“Deal. Anything else on your mind?”
“No. That should be everything.”
“Okay, Zach,” Sasha said. “I’ve got the chandelier fastened. You can let go now.”
Zachary stepped down from the ladder. “I still can’t believe the historical society had all these chandeliers rotting in storage. Already, they give this ballroom a fresh, new look.”
“There’s still a long way to go. I just hope this fundraiser is a success.”
“Sasha, you’ve got to have a little faith. Gresham is a very giving community, and with all the publicity we’re dropping into this, we’re going to have folks from a hundred miles around busting down the door to give.”
Vera’s cell phone rang inside her jacket pocket. “I have to get this. We’ll be in touch.”
Zachary closed up the ladder and set it against the wall. “Hey, Sasha. I’d better get to the shop. Today’s delivery day for the new books, and I don’t want to leave poor Alexander to unload them all himself.”
“You know, you wouldn’t have to go rushing off if Kevin were still...”
“Sasha, don’t start with me. I know you think Kevin is a selfish prick for taking off to try and find himself, but I think this respite will be good for him. He’s been through some pretty rough shit lately, and sometimes you need to be left alone to decompress.”
Kevin was one of Zachary’s closest friends and, until about two months ago, his roommate. The two of them had grown up together near New London, but while Zachary had gone for broke and pursued his dream of owning a business, Kevin had mostly floated from job to job, eventually helping Zachary operate the bookstore to be able to afford rent.
About a year ago, a series of events started to unravel the usually steady Kevin. His boyfriend, Pete, started to physically abuse him on an escalating scale, which was how he found himself on Zachary’s doorstep one night. Then Kevin met Trevor, who pretended to be a caring soul when really he was just a thief who eventually was arrested. Fast forward to three months ago, when Kevin’s father died from a heart attack while shoveling snow in his driveway. While still reeling about his father’s mortality, he learned from his doctor that he was HIV positive, most likely from one of the guys he’d slept with. Shortly after that bit of news hit the fan, Kevin packed a bag and left Zachary a note that he was taking off to figure out his life and how to find hope again.COLLAPSE