Adam didn't understand. He'd been watching Tick and Bernadette circle around each other for years and this was the inescapable conclusion: Adam was, in fact, incapable of understanding. He hadn't believed so at first, had thought that eventually he would come to understand his two friends, but now he knew differently. There was to be no understanding for him, no burst of inspiration, no lighting flash of brilliance that would make this ridiculous situation suddenly comprehensible. At least now he had an idea as to why.
The first time Adam had seen Tick he'd been new to the city. He'd lived his entire life in the suburbs, mummy's perfect little angel, pampered, spoiled and rotten to the core. Adam might be a lot of things, but deluded wasn't one of them. He knew exactly who and what he was and he'd learned to revel in it. He'd been fawned over and adored, a little princeling lording it over his four bedroom, two bathroom, white picket fence-enclosed castle. That was how he liked it. He'd had his fair share of admirers, too - boys who worshipped him, girls who wanted to be like him. It was only natural to assume that such adulation would carry over when he matriculated from his tiny high school stage to the grander stages in Sydney.
It hadn't. That had been a rude awakening. He'd been turned away from audition after audition, never quite what the directors were looking for. He was too short - nothing he could do about that. He was too tall - nothing he could do about that, either. He was too skinny, so he worked out, bulked up a little. Then he was too built. He was too pretty. His features were too large. He was too manly, too effeminate. His voice was too high. His voice wasn't high enough. He had too little experience. His head shots were by the wrong photographer. He hadn't been trained by the right instructors. He'd had too much training, too little training. He was a clumsy oaf on the dance floor. He was too graceful to play a butch male lead.
It was maddening. No matter what they wanted, Adam wasn't it and the more he tried to change himself to become it - whatever it was - the more he lost himself along the way. He'd stumbled into a bar one night, attractive enough to make it in even with the wrong year on his I.D. but too baby-faced to finagle a drink out of the bartender, anyway, and tucked himself into a corner table to try to drown himself in the one vice which had never failed him - men. Only... that night even that hadn't gone as planned.
Adam normally paid little to no attention to the pathetic little amateur shows these clubs boasted. The music was old, the acts tired, the performers sagging and middle-aged. There was absolutely nothing there to hold his interest. At least... there never had been before. That night... oh, sweet Lord, that night... That was the night that Adam met Mitzi.
She strutted onto that stage like she owned it, all long, lean legs, ridiculously graceful and expressive arms and sequins and glitter from head to toe. She was a force of nature and she was beautiful. Adam had an instant gut reaction to seeing her parade around on that stage. He wanted to possess her. He wanted to own her. He wanted every man in that club to see his mark on her and know that he was the one who'd tamed that statuesque, marvelous creature. And when those deep green eyes locked on his, even hiding in his little corner, when they pierced through his crowd of sycophants and drew him in... he experienced the exact opposite emotion in equal measure - he wanted to curl up at her feet and worship.
He'd stayed in that bar all night, eagerly awaiting every one of her numbers - Miss Mitzi Matosis. The name just dripped and rolled off the tongue, perfect like every other part of her, from her elegantly coiffed wigs to her beaded and sequined lashes, to the miles and miles and miles of muscular thigh and calf. Adam had never been so taken in his life. It tripped him up, made him stupid. When the bar was closing up for the night, Adam had fled, unable to think of a single thing to say to that glamorous goddess of the stage.
He'd come back, of course. Night after night after night, he'd come back. So, it was only natural that one night he would come... and his goddess wouldn't be there. It was only when he sat at his table, staring in benumbed horror at the act list for the night, that he realized how bad it had gotten. He was absolutely crushed, completely devastated, that he was going to spend the night without his shining beacon to look upon. And, of course, he was now convinced that this was the night he would finally have had the courage to walk up to that stage, say something positively brilliant and sweep her right off her feet. So wrapped up was he in his disappointment, in fact, that he almost missed the quiet voice at his shoulder which asked, "So... is this seat taken?"
Adam waved a hand dismissively. No, it wasn't taken, but what difference did it make? One more suitor to add to the list or not, it didn't matter. Couldn't they see that Adam's heart was broken? The voice answered back, just as shy, just as quiet, "Thanks. Can... can I maybe...?"
Adam sighed, rolled his eyes at the hesitance. He had no patience for men like this, men who had no idea what they wanted, who they were or how to go about getting to either. He allowed his face to take on a bored expression, trying to discourage the timid man from staying too long as he waved a hand at one of the waiters. He needed to know why his angel was missing from the list tonight. Was she sick? Injured? Or was it simply her night off? He needed to know. As the waiter approached, the voice at his side finally got out, "Can I buy you a drink?"
Adam made a face but nodded anyway, never one to turn down a free drink from someone old enough to buy it for him. When the waiter reached the table Adam placed his order. And when the timid-voiced man reached past him with his credit card, the waiter frowned, tapped the card idly on his tray for a moment before admonishing, "Tick... I'd stay away from this one if I were you, pet. He's new, but he's broken no less than three hearts this week, alone. I don't want yours to be next on the list." Then with a pointed look in Adam's direction, he spun on his heel and sashayed off towards the bar.
Well, well. Curiouser and curiouser. If he was known by name to the wait-staff, then this man was a regular, Adam supposed. Well, as a regular, perhaps he had some information on Adam's missing goddess. He turned to face the other man for the first time that evening... and froze, mouth dropped open in shock.
The man's hair was black, short, flopping just a little into his eyes - it was cute, in a spaniel-dog kind of way - he was tall... very tall, actually, slim but with just a hint of strong musculature under his far-too-nondescript clothes... but, dear G-d, his eyes. There was no mistaking those eyes. Adam stared, unable to reconcile the differences in the timid man before him and the leonine, seductive grace of his goddess of the stage. He stuttered out, like a complete plebe, "M-M-M-Mitzi?" His voice even rose to a little squeak at the end of the query.
And the man... he blushed. He blushed, ducked his eyes to the floor and hunched in a little, as though trying to somehow fold his six foot two frame into a height less noticeable. Dear Lord, he was even turning his feet inward, stepping on the toes of one foot with the toes of the other. It was adorable, but it just... it was wrong. Adam's head was starting to swim. Finally the other man broke the silence by saying, "It... It's Tick. It's only Mitzi whenﾅ" He waved a graceful arm up towards the stage.
Adam finally regained enough presence of mind to get his jaw rehinged and off the floor and to take command of the situation. It might not be going exactly how he'd imagined, but that didn't mean he was above taking advantage. He reached behind him and pulled out a chair, waved the taller man into it, as gallant as any good suitor, and said, "Well, then, Tick, my darling... I think it is I who should be buying you that drink, don't you agree?"
Tick blushed again, shook his head and murmured, "No... no, that's all right." There was an awkward pause, then, as both tried to figure out what to say to make this conversation less, well... awkward. Finally, Tick sneaked a glance up at Adam through the fringe of his bangs, a flash of Mitzi's brash confidence peaking out of those green eyes as he pertly added, "Besides, I could probably buy out the bar for you off the tips you've given me this week, alone."
And in that moment, seeing Mitzi peak out from underneath Tick's oppressive shyness to play, Adam realized something vitally important and potentially dangerous... he was completely, utterly, head-over-heels smitten with Tick. G-d help him.
Of course, it wasn't as simple as all that. Adam found that out almost immediately.
Mitzi's confidence was entirely misleading. Mitzi was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted and went after it. Mitzi was a consummate flirt and a daring seductress. Mitzi flaunted her body, showed it off at every available moment. Mitzi was a brilliant performer, a glamorous starlet reminiscent of old Hollywood.
Tick, on the other hand, was shy - painfully so. Tick had no idea who he was when he wasn't Mitzi and could barely manage a declarative sentence without stuttering and stumbling over it. Tick panicked when Adam even draped a hand around his shoulders, much less tried anything more daring than that. Tick hid his body in oversized, drab-colored clothes, wouldn't have looked out of place in the bland, white-bread suburbia that Adam had just fled. One thing, however, remained the same... Tick was as gallant a gentleman as Mitzi was a glamorous dame. Tick was the kind of man who held open doors for a woman. He pulled out chairs. He never forgot to hold out his arm to escort his date. He always paid for dinner. It was heady, being the sole object of that attention, and Adam could see all too easily how it could become addictive... but it was frustrating, too. Adam was young... and Adam wanted more.
Every time Mitzi stepped off that stage, still in costume, still in character, Adam would be there, racing to beat the clock, to reach Mitzi's side before the stroke of midnight turned his queen back into a scullery maid. He never quite made it. The minute those glittering heels hit the floor of the dressing room the magic would fade, Mitzi slowly turning back into Tick before Adam's very eyes. And Adam loved Tick - of course, he did. He loved Tick's gallantry, loved his sensitivity, his caring, his gentleness. He loved how Tick always seemed to need looking after. And Adam loved looking after Tick.
ﾅbut he'd have loved to have a little piece of Mitzi to look after him, too.
One day, maybe two months after they'd officially "met", Adam arrived at the bar on Tick's night off, ready to whisk the other man away for a night out on the town, determined to get him to relax and let Mitzi's hair down - even if he had to get him drunk to do it - but it wasn't to be. When Adam arrived it was to find his usual seat at their usual table already occupied. An older woman was perched on the edge of the chair, perfect posture, glamorous dress and elegant hairstyle completely at odds with the d?or around her. Adam could see it, how she'd been beautiful once, a complete knockout - a true Hollywood starlet - but she was old, now, clearly past her prime... and not aging entirely gracefully, either. She was holding onto youth and beauty with tooth and nail. It was almost a shame, really. She was still a handsome woman and she'd have been far more attractive if she gave in to her age a little instead of trying so hard to keep up with the younger crowd.
None of that mattered, though. It was surface, first superficial impressions. No... what mattered was what was going on in the seat next to her. It was the first time that Adam had seen Tick's gentility from outside its embrace. Gallantry, chivalry an almost sensual protectiveness... dearie dear, it was like watching an old black-and-white film. It was so sugary, sappy sweet that Adam could feel a toothache coming on just watching it. The way Tick fawned over this woman... the way he laughed with her, the way her approval lit a sparkle in his eyes... it made Adam a little sick.
So, maybe he was a little rude when he walked over. Maybe he sniped at the woman, made an unseemly comment or two about the cut of her dress... and how it would have been a more attractive neckline if her breasts hung somewhere higher than her belly button. Tick... oh, Tick was unhappy with that. He rose to his feet, eyes flashing dangerously, fists half-clenched at his sides, a bit of a growl in his throat. No lie, though - the sudden and completely unexpected surge of testosterone from his usually timid friend shot straight through Adam's heart and into his groin. If Tick had flipped him over his knee to spank him then, Adam might just have let him - even might have begged for more - but it wasn't going to happen. The older woman reached out a deceptively gentle hand and laid it on Tick's forearm, smiled softly at him and shook her head, then indicated with a short nod that Tick should head towards the bar to refill her glass. Tick stalked off in the indicated direction, affronted male pride and ego in every single step. Adam had no idea what to make of it.
The woman turned back to face him, let out a soft sigh as she motioned him closer - and then Adam got the first of what would turn out to be many true shocks of his life. The woman's voice was deep, deeper even than Tick's, and her outward glamour hid a biting, steel-edged wit far sharper than Adam's own. In seconds she had him gutted, skinned, filleted and sewn back together with no one around them - even a returning Tick - any the wiser. Adam hated to admit it, but he was in awe. And in a flash of dizzying understanding, Adam figured out who had been the mastermind behind the creation of Mitzi. He held out a hand to the older woman, a wary respect underpinning his words, "Adam Whitely. It's a pleasure."
The woman smiled wryly at him, her voice resolving into a high, husky alto as she responded, "I doubt that very much, dear boy, but I appreciate the introduction just the same. Tick has told me so much about you that I decided that it was high time that you and I should meet. My name is Bernadette Bassinger."
Two years later and after a complete change in his perceptions of himself and the world around him, Adam still didn't understand. But he was slowly beginning to see that that was all right. Bernadette... in spite of how she'd started out her life, Bernadette was a woman. And Adam did not understand women. He never had. He'd never pretended to. He liked his sexual explorations and his romantic ones kept simple - or simple-er, at least. Only one hormone for him, thank you very much. So, Adam didn't even try to understand Bernadette anymore. He understood her well enough to get under her skin when she got too possessive of Tick and that was enough, really. Adam didn't need to understand more than that.
Tick, on the other hand... Tick was someone who Adam wanted to understand. Adam was still in awe of Mitzi and just as Mitzi had been Bernadette's carefully crafted creature, so too had Felicia been Mitzi's. And Felicia worshiped the heels her creator walked in. Felicia, at least, got to have that piece of Mitzi that Adam had so desperately wanted to possess and failed. Felicia could get up on that stage with her, could revel in that confidence, that poise, that absolute mastery of self from up close and personal in a way that Tick would never let Adam experience. It wasn't everything, but it was enough. And Mitzi... well, Felicia understood Mitzi. She understood what made her tick - ha! What made her... oh, never mind. She got Mitzi. She was a woman cut from the same cloth, after all. She wanted the same things. That wasn't where the understanding broke down. No... just as always, it broke down as soon as Mitzi stepped off that stage, because Tick... Tick was still incomprehensible, even after knowing him for two years.
After this last little stunt, though... at least now Adam knew why. Tick had let slip at the beginning of this trip that he'd been married. Adam had been stunned to say the least, but once he'd had time to think about it, it made sense. Tick had grown up thinking himself straight, had married a woman, had tried to live that life and failed miserably. He'd come to Sydney to escape that failure and had discovered his inner cougar, so to speak. But now... well, anyone with eyes could see that Mitzi worshipped Bernadette the same way that Felicia worshipped Mitzi. The only problem with that was that Tick had never really put the same effort into understanding himself as he had into understanding Mitzi... and he fell back into his straight habits whenever it was easier to do so - which was always. So, Tick thought that Mitzi's worship of her creator should translate into his love for Bernadette - and it made him as stupid and oafish as any other straight boy that Adam had ever known. And as much as Adam didn't understand women... well, straight men were next down on the list.
Which brought him back around to their current conundrum - now that Bob had joined them, flirting shamelessly with Bernadette in a way that the older woman couldn't help but respond to, Tick had retreated to the front of the bus, leaning over the wheel like a man possessed. In short... he was sulking. It made sense, really. Tick had always been the "man" of their little group, the gallant escort, the knight in shining armor. Adam had drawn him out of that shell a little - Felicia's tender, loving care working better than a jar of oil to loosen him up - but not nearly enough. And Tick had resisted, too, unwilling to unwind enough to change, unwilling to uncoil from around his old, straight self enough to become who he was really meant to be. Only now... now that he had Bob to compare himself to, he was realizing that his "manliness" well... wasn't. And if he wasn't the "man" of the group anymore and he had fought becoming one of the "girls" with every fiber of his being... what exactly did that make him?
It made him lost, confused... in pain. And Adam's heart ached for him. Bernadette was going to choose Bob. It was even the right choice for her. Adam could see it. Bob was everything that Bernadette had been trying to force Tick into being for her and now that she had Bob... she didn't need Tick. Not that way, anyway. And Tick, well... he'd been living Bernadette's dreams for so long that he'd forgotten his own. So, he was sulking, like a little boy who'd been denied the last piece of cake. It was adorable... but just like Tick's still overwhelming shyness, it wasn't healthy.
Adam turned away from teasing Bernadette and Bob for a moment and headed up to the front of the bus. Tick was facing forward, eyes resolutely staring at the road, his very posture radiating his need to not be disturbed. Well, Adam had never been one to listen to a Do Not Disturb sign and he wasn't about to start now. He stepped closer, reached out and ruffled Tick's hair before draping himself over the other man's hunched back. Tick turned quickly, expression just as ruffled as his hair, and shot him a glance out of the corner of his eye. Adam just smiled winningly, leaned forward again and placed a gentle peck of a kiss on Tick's cheek. Reluctantly, that corner of Tick's lips lifted in a smile. Adam ruffled the other man's hair again before turning away.
No, Adam did not understand Bernadette or Tick. He didn't think he ever would. But he was starting to believe that he understood Ralph and Mitzi perfectly... and really, that was enough to be getting on with. It had better be, because Adam loved this messed up little family he'd fallen into with every fabulous fiber of his dysfunctional little being and he wasn't giving them up for anything. And if Felicia had to whip them all into submission to keep them together... well, at least she would like that. And really... Adam understood Mitzi well enough by now to think that she would, too.