KEITH AND FREDDY IN SAN FRANCISCO
A bonus to the novel Astounding!
***Contains spoilers for Astounding!, so read the book first!***
by Kim Fielding
“You’re thinking about your book.”
Freddy startled slightly and gave Keith a guilty smile. “How could you tell?” Maybe he’d been typing his fingertips on the coffee shop table.
“You were totally spacing out. And anyway, you’re always thinking about your book.”
“Oh.” Freddy took a sip of his Earl Gray, then set the cup down and played with the napkin. “Sorry. It’s just, I’m at a really good part. The Duchess of M’harnik is about to find out she’s been betrayed, and then—”
Keith held up a hand. “No spoilers.” He liked to wait until the manuscripts were finished and edited before reading them, which Freddy appreciated. It meant that after five years, his boyfriend was still a big fan. Keith reached across the table and grabbed Freddy’s hand. “We can go back to the hotel and your laptop, if you want.”
The thing was, Freddy did want. He was practically squirming with the need to get the words out of his head and onto the page. But that wouldn’t be fair to Keith, who’d been patient about camping in Yosemite for a week—without much in the way of modern conveniences—and who was now really getting a kick out of roaming San Francisco.
“I’d rather hang out with you,” Freddy sort of lied, and he was rewarded with a grin. He was already receiving daily threats because the next installment of the Stonefire Saga wasn’t yet in readers’ hands; another few hours wouldn’t make a difference.
“I’ll find a way to thank you,” said Keith, waggling his bushy eyebrows. He was tall and somewhat squishy, with a wardrobe consisting almost entirely of geeky T-shirts and old jeans, and the sight of him still made Freddy’s heart go pitter-patter. Sometimes Freddy loved him so much it hurt. And knowing that Keith loved him right back? That was what kept Freddy’s world spinning.
“So what do you want to do?” Freddy asked. “Spend more time in North Beach?”
“You’re just hoping you can talk me into swinging by the bookstore again,” Keith answered, casting a significant look at the two bags Freddy had filled at City Lights.
“I think my book habit’s been fed enough for today.” The reading part of the habit at least, if not the writing part.
Keith rubbed his cheek thoughtfully. “How about we head down Grant and hunt for tacky souvenirs? Then we can drop off your books at the hotel and maybe see if Carter wants to go out with us.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They gathered their belongings and headed out into the twilit city. A block or two from the coffee house, Keith sighed. “Carter’s not going to want to come, is he?”
“Probably not. He needs time to mourn.” Just a few days earlier, John, the man Carter loved—who’d turned out to be an extraterrestrial in disguise—had been forcibly taken away by his fellow aliens. Freddy ached for Carter, who’d long ago been his lover and had remained his close friend. Carter was a good man but a somewhat lost soul, a guy who longed deeply for gifts life had never provided.
Also, Freddy was increasingly certain that John had left Carter with more than a broken heart. The longer the two had spent time together, the… odder Carter had become. Nothing major. Just little quirks like his newfound ability to run for miles at top speed and the fact that all of Keith’s attempts to photograph him resulted in a pixelated mess. But Carter hadn’t broached the subject of this new weirdness, and Freddy didn’t want to press when Carter was already so raw.
“I can’t believe we spent a week with a guy from another planet,” said Keith as a middle-aged man with purple dreadlocks and a shiny silver suit walked by. “I mean, there he was, so cute and sweet and everything. We roasted marshmallows with him! And it turns out he’s not even corporeal.”
“Life is weird.”
“But you know what? That’s not the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Freddy shot him a quick look. “Oh?”
“Nope. The number one most amazing thing was meeting my favorite author in the whole wide world and finding out he’s even better in person than in print. And then finding out he kinda likes me too.”
“Kinda,” Freddy agreed. He grabbed Keith’s free hand and kissed the back of it.
They were deep in the touristy heart of Chinatown when they came to a tea shop. “I could use some oolong,” said Freddy, who had an entire cupboard of tea back home. His addiction to the stuff wasn’t as bad as his book habit, but he had trouble resisting the temptation.
Keith was a coffee guy. “Fine. Sip away. I’ll….” His gaze lingered a moment on the window of the jewelry store next door, but then he waved at a place that sold T-shirts, back scratchers, ben-wa balls, plastic cable cars, and other cheap crap. “I’ll be in there.”
“Fine. But we don’t need any cat statues or paper fans.”
The lady at the tea shop was happy to give Freddy lots of sample tastes, so he spent longer there than he’d intended to. He expected Keith to barge in at any moment, impatiently rolling his eyes. But there was no sign of Keith until the lady began to ring up Freddy’s purchases.
And when Keith entered the shop, he said only a quick hello to Freddy. His attention was focused on a little girl, maybe six or seven years old, who sat at a table in the corner of the store, coloring pictures of superheroes. She held a stuffed Disney character in her lap.
As they walked down the street—Freddy’s hands occupied by bags of tea and books—Freddy bumped his shoulder into Keith. “You really want that, don’t you?”
Keith blinked at an enormous, ugly statue of a frog that stood guard outside a store. “You think I’m jonesing for oversize amphibians?”
“Not that. I was referring to the kid in the tea place. Any kid, I mean. You really want kids.”
It had been a sore point between them for some time. Keith yearned to be a parent, and Freddy knew he’d be a damned good one. It wasn’t that Freddy was averse to fatherhood himself. But he worried. What if the beautiful thing he had with Keith fell apart someday and their children were left stretched between them, just as Freddy had been with his divorced parents? Or what if Freddy’s fame and fortune collapsed like a cardboard house in an earthquake and he couldn’t provide for their family anymore? He had no marketable skills besides writing, and until they met, Keith had been a dental hygienist. It would be hard to support kids on that salary.
Freddy knew that Keith would forgo having children if that was what it took to retain their relationship. But Jesus, that wasn’t really fair. Keith would survive not being a dad, but he’d likely regret it his entire life.
“What’s your point?” Keith asked carefully, interrupting Freddy’s thoughts. They’d stopped walking and were now pressed close to the gaudy Chinatown gate, probably photobombing a zillion tourists. Freddy smiled a bit, wondering if any of them would eventually realize their vacation photos included a well-known author.
“My point,” Freddy said, “is that having children is really important to you. God knows you’ve supported all my crazy needs. It’s time I supported yours.”
Uncharacteristically speechless, Keith opened and closed his mouth. He looked like he couldn’t decide whether to cry or jump up and down. “You mean it?” he finally squeaked. “You’re ready for kids?”
Freddy took a deep breath and let it out. “Yes.”
“Why? Why now?”
“Carter. He was raised by a bunch of shitheads who abandoned him when he was just a kid, he’s dead broke, and his magazine just went belly up. He finally finds true love, but they only get, what? A week together. But he’s going to be okay. Remember what he said when we were driving here?”
Keith nodded. “He said John killed his bitterness and left him with a spark of hope.”
“Right. If Carter can get so much out of such a short relationship, I can damned well get some courage after five years with you.” He reached up to stroke Keith’s face. “I’m brave enough now to take the plunge.”
With a muffled cry, Keith pulled him close and held him so tightly that Freddy could barely breathe. The bags of books and tea hung uncomfortably, interfering with the hug. Passersby undoubtedly stared—some probably took extra pictures. Freddy didn’t care.
Keith didn’t so much walk down the sidewalk as float, and Freddy bounced along at his side. They both grinned so widely that Freddy’s face hurt. They were going to do this. He didn’t know how. Surrogacy? Adoption? Didn’t matter; the details could wait. He’d finally made a decision, and he felt damned good about it. Better even than his first big book contract, better than when HBO bought the rights to his bestselling series, better than when he got to attend the Emmys and watch his show clean up on awards.
He and Keith decided not to tell Carter right away. Let him have some time to mourn before they shared their joy. Freddy was good at keeping secrets. Not even Keith knew which book character he planned to kill off next.
In the hotel elevator, Keith gave Freddy a wicked smile. “We need to celebrate.”
“I have… an idea.”
Freddy wanted to press him—it wouldn’t take much to make Keith spill; he sucked at keeping secrets—but he held his tongue. He’d find out soon enough. Since Keith had waited patiently for so many years, Freddy figured the guy had earned a bit of privacy for planning their celebration.
After putting the shopping bags in their room and sharing a few deep kisses, Keith headed back to the elevator on a mysterious errand. Freddy knocked at the door of Carter’s adjoining room but didn’t get an answer. He might be napping, but more likely he was exercising. He’d been doing that a lot lately. Freddy scribbled a note saying they were going out and telling Carter to call if he wanted to join them. Freddy knew that Carter’s cell phone had died, but he could use the hotel’s landline.
When Keith finally returned to their room, he insisted they both dress up. Freddy’s wardrobe tended toward the comfortable and schlumpy, but they’d each brought a nice button-down shirt and a pair of slacks. A short time later, they were walking through the San Francisco dusk.
Keith had secretly made reservations at a small sushi place on Bush. The meal was amazing—fish liver, fish heads, and all. It was nice to be in a financial position where a three-hundred-dollar restaurant bill didn’t even make them blink. The sake, however, did make Freddy blink; he somehow ended up drinking quite a bit of it.
Freddy was feeling full and happy and tipsy when they left, and he didn’t protest when Keith ushered him into a taxi. He was surprised, however, when instead of taking them back to the hotel, the taxi stopped in front of a place in SoMa called Miss Steak’s Meat House.
“Really?” Freddy said as they got out of the cab. “We just ate.”
“It’s a bar. C’mon.”
“You don’t have to get me drunk to take advantage of me.”
Keith chucked Freddy’s bearded chin. “I know. You’re easy. But come on.”
As soon as they entered, Freddy’s puzzlement grew. The décor was faux retro, with a black-and-white-checked floor and overdone chandeliers. Heavy red curtains hung on the walls alongside huge paintings of scantily clad women who reclined on divans. Padded vinyl chairs sat in rows rather than around tables, and they faced a stage that ran the far width of the room.
“Keith?” Freddy asked worriedly. But Keith just smiled and gave his name to the woman near the door. With her high heels, long legs, and bouffant wig, she was at least six and a half feet tall. Her multicolored eye shadow sparkled, and her lacquered nails could easily be lethal weapons.
“Right this way, boys,” she said huskily. She swung her hips dangerously as she led them to seats in the front row—seats that had obviously been reserved for them, because the house was already packed with various genders, sitting as couples or in small groups of men and women. The crowd’s chatter nearly drowned out the sultry jazz playing through the sound system.
As soon as Freddy sat, another statuesque beauty stuck a drink in his hand. “Passion fruit mojito!” she announced. Then she squeezed his cheek like a fond aunt and sailed away.
Keith didn’t take his seat. “I’ll be right back,” he said, then hurried away before Freddy could protest. Bemused, Freddy sipped his drink.
He was on his second mojito by the time Keith returned and plopped down into the empty chair. And before Freddy could demand to know what was going on, the houselights dimmed, the stage lit up, and—with burlesque fanfare as accompaniment—a large woman with enormous breasts took the stage. Her formfitting dress was sequined in red, white, and blue; her jewelry was as oversized as she was; and her lipstick was shiny enough to be blinding. “Helloooo, darlings!” she called in a baritone. Her gaze was fixed on Freddy in the front row.
Freddy had attended a couple of drag shows before, but he’d always been just an anonymous guy in the audience. Here, over the course of the night, he was anything but. Every single performer fawned over him. They ruffled his hair, perched on his lap, tweaked his beard, and left lipstick marks on his cheeks. They crooned torch songs, and they winked so enthusiastically that he was surprised their glittery eyelashes stayed on.
After a while, he stopped being mortified. The girls were actually pretty good, and the show was fun. Besides, Keith sat next to him, holding his hand, arranging Freddy’s hair back into place, in general making Freddy feel like the most adored man in history.
Freddy was almost disappointed when all the performers took the stage at once, signaling the finale. But then Miss Steak herself smiled at him as she took the mic. “We’ve got one last thing for you tonight, darlings, and it’s very special.”
Keith grew suddenly very still. Freddy noticed and thought uh-oh.
The instrumental theme from the Stonesfire Saga TV series blared through the speakers. And then the entire row of drag queens burst into song:
Freddy! I love you! You make my heart beeaaaaat.
Freddy! I love you! You want to be my baby daddy!
Freddy! I love you! You’re my dream come truuuuuuuue.
Freddy! I love you! Please marry me!
On the final note, Keith slid from his chair onto one knee. He held a small black box in one shaking hand. “I never claimed I could write stuff,” he muttered. The drag queens heard him and laughed sweetly.
“Will you, Freddy?” Keith opened the box to reveal a heavy gold ring, plain except for a twisting, vine-like line. “Will you marry me?”
The entire room, audience and performers alike, waited for the answer.
It was the single most embarrassing moment of Freddy’s life—and also the most wonderful. This was what he’d wanted for years, and he’d never even realized it. For once, he couldn’t conjure any fancy words.
“Yes,” he said quietly.
Everyone erupted in applause. Keith hugged him, jammed the ring on Freddy’s finger, and hugged him again. The clapping grew even more enthusiastic, and they kissed until neither of them had any oxygen left. Then they kissed some more.
Eventually Miss Steak insisted on giving them both noisy smooches, and her entire retinue of drag queens followed suit. Keith’s face became splotched with multicolored lipstick; it looked as if he had some exotic disease. Of course, Freddy’s was just as bad.
Finally the rest of the audience left, most of them stopping to congratulate Freddy and Keith first. But the two of them stayed. Drag queens in fancy dresses kept bringing Freddy drinks and peppering him with questions about his books and about the actors in the TV series. His mind grew so happily muddled that he had no idea what he said, but the ladies sure seemed entertained by it.
Keith took a lot of photos of everyone, and there was another round of kisses when it was finally time to go.
Keith insisted on walking arm-in-arm with Freddy as they made their slow way up the sidewalk. “’Cause I want to escort my fiancé properly,” Keith said, although helping Freddy walk a straight line might also have been his goal. An evening fog had settled in, making everything seem magical. Otherworldly.
When they came to a corner and waited for the light, Freddy leaned into him. “I’ll have the best husband in the universe.”
“I’ll have the second best, then.”
“How’d you manage all that… production?” Freddy waved a hand vaguely.
“Bought the ring in Chinatown while you were drinking tea. I didn’t think I’d get to use it so soon. But then we had that talk about kids, and… you know we’re forever, right?”
Keith kissed the top of his head. “The rest was a very good hotel concierge and some judicious name-dropping.”
“You’re something else.”
“I’m just an ex dental hygienist from Iowa.”
The signal changed to WALK, but Freddy ignored it. “You are the future father of my children. And the light of my life. You’re not ‘just’ anything.”
On the fog-shrouded street corner, they kissed. Yes, Freddy was still a little drunk. But he knew with utter clarity that he was the luckiest man in the world, that his and Keith’s entwined life story would have a happy ending.
Only one thing would make the night even more perfect. “Let’s go back to our room,” Freddy said. “This is the happiest day of my life, and I have some characters to kill off.” He gave a mock scream as Keith began to chase him down the street.