At The Midnight Hour

A welcoming gathering spot, The Midnight Hour is a place where love can be found, lost and maybe even found again.

At The Midnight Hour
By Marissa Lynn

This would have been a "You may wonder how I wound up here" needle scratch moment, but Ethan Hammond knew exactly how he came to be sitting in The Midnight Hour, sipping on a bourbon cocktail that somehow tasted of chocolate even though there wasn't any in it.

This was the scene of the crime -- where it all started and where it all went completely sideways.

"Hey, Ethan. Want another one?" Holly, the bartender in the blunt blonde bob with streaks of pink, asked. She ran the place, dispensing drinks and acting as a sort of lesbian den mother to the customers.

"Sure, why not?"

"It's not as if I have anything better to do than be drinking alone right now."

Some time ago...

"That was a good session, don't you think?"

"It was, Neil. It was. If Jack gets the sound as right as I think he does, the EP should turn out great," Ethan said.

"Exactly. Now, I think we need a place to celebrate. I haven't lived here very long, but a friend of mine told me - there it is!"

Neil Murray motioned to the opposite corner of the intersection to the bar in question. And that's how Ethan, straight guitarist and songwriter wound up in a beloved queer bar with his unquestionably gay and even more unquestionably talented bass player, Neil.

"What can I get you folks?" Holly, in the same bob, but blue, asked.

Ethan was about to say "a beer", but Neil beat him to the punch. "Whaddya got?"

"Tell you what, why don't I surprise you? Just tell me your favorite liquor."

Ethan answered "bourbon" while Neil chimed in with "gin."

"Perfect. Back in a few."

Ethan and Neil started talking, the latter more hopeful of the prospects for what they'd recorded. Ethan felt good about the songs he'd come up with and the band was fine, it was finding the audience that was the question.

"Here you go. Hope you like," Holly said.

"Ooh, kinda savory, I like it," Neil said while Ethan affirmed his approval for the cocktail he'd soon become familiar with.

The two picked up their conversation about the EP and how Ethan needed to pick a title. Neil couldn't help but pick up on the bar's vibe.

"I have to say, Greg was right about this place. Seems like it has a little bit of everything and everyone and if this is any indication, the drink program's got to be great."

Ethan nodded. It wasn't a place he would have sought out, but he didn't feel uncomfortable like he'd have thought. As he visually surveyed the place, he caught sight of a table with three women who weren't unattractive, careful not to linger.

Considering this place, they could very well be lesbian. Maybe even the three of them were in what do they call it? A polycule? No shade on consenting adults doing consenting adult things, but he thought Polycule sounded like the name of a math rock band.

When he looked back, he saw the woman at the end of the table looking at him and, oh boy. Golden brown hair, her look put together well and- "Is she smiling at me?"

"Come on, Ethan. Don't be creepy."

But every time he looked over, it seemed she was looking back at him, before they'd engage in an unplanned race to see who could look away the fastest.

"You should go introduce yourself," Neil said.

"What? No. I mean, this isn't that kind of bar."

"Is it? I mean, bi people exist, trans people exist and, ahem, so do straight friends who hang out with their gay bandmates. By the way, I've seen that look on your face before -- Megan Zimmerman, sophomore year."

"We dated until senior year when she dumped me for the captain of the basketball team."

"And then Cindy Tucker a couple years ago."

"Yes, and nine months later, she came out of the closet. She says "Hi," by the way. But I'm in no mood to go 0-for-3, okay?"

"Fine, suit yourself, Mr. Lone Wolf."

Before Ethan could respond, he felt a tap on his shoulder, he turned to see the woman from the table looking right at him.

"Hi, I'm Chloe."

Chloe

If she weren't with good friends, she'd have felt like the third wheel, although she could have lived without the talk turning to her dating life.

"Chloe, what's it been, almost a year?" Tessa asked.

"Maybe, but I'm busy with my job and I have my friends at home and I have my cats. I don't need a man."

"Well, you could try dating a woman again?" Rachel said.

"I tried that with you, remember?" Chloe said, thinking back to when they'd been together earlier in their transitions. They'd ended as friends with the realization that, unlike Rachel, she wasn't attracted to women that way.

"Yes, you did. Thank you for being straight, by the way," Rachel said as she lovingly put her hand on Tessa's arm. "Ooh, Chloe. The guy at your 12 o'clock."

She looked and saw a dark-haired guy in the brown jacket (simple, but effective) with his friend. Or boyfriend, probably. He looked their way and, oh God, he's very cute. She smiled.

"Too awkward. Look away."

The furtive glancefest continued between them before Tessa said, "Oh, come on. Are you going to do this all night? At least talk to Hottie McHotface over there."

Chloe, knowing these two were going to keep bugging her about it, got up and made her way to the bar.

"Come on, Chloe. Don't flub the introduction."

"Hi, I'm Chloe."

"Smooth."

Ethan

That look Neil mentioned? He was feeling that inside with Chloe, warmth to an unfamiliar degree. While he hadn't lacked confidence when it came to women, she had him feeling a little out of his league.

That didn't matter, as they fell into a groove talking as Neil made himself scarce, eventually going over to Rachel and Tessa.

Chloe had to eventually wrap things up, as she had work tomorrow at the place where she did graphic design. "I'd like to continue this conversation on an actual date, if you'd like."

"I'd like that a lot, Chloe. You pick the time and place."

She unleashed a smile at him that, damn. He got why women were annoyed getting told to smile more. But when one like this came naturally and earned, he was smitten.

Chloe's choice was a simple one, an izakaya not far away. Perfect for sharing and quiet enough to enjoy each other's company.

He suggested getting dessert nearby. Her expression changed slightly before she countered with a suggestion to go to The Midnight Hour.

They wound up there with some off-menu booze-free hot chocolate, a recipe Holly got from her partner, Tina.

"This is really good," Ethan said. "But I have a feeling that's not why we're here."

"You're partially right, but I want to be on friendly turf when I tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"I like you a lot, Ethan, but if we're going to go farther, you need to know. I'm transgender."

"I, wow. I had no idea."

"It's true. I wanted to get to know you better, so that I could get a feeling I could trust you."

"I mean, you can. I wasn't expecting you to tell me this."

"Look, I understand if this is a dealbreaker for you."

"I didn't say that. It's just that I wasn't expecting it. Let's get another round and talk about it."

Chloe nervously agreed, not knowing where this was going, but trusting her instincts. Her fears were soon eased.

"I can't say you didn't surprise me. But, truth is, ever since we met, I've only seen you as a woman. I guess that "trans" is just another adjective for you, like gorgeous, kind --"

"Normally, I'd ask you to go on, but-"

"But, what?"

Chloe leaned in. As far as first kisses go, it was an all-timer for Ethan. If he'd been 99.5 percent taken with her after their meeting, the kiss took care of the rest.

Chloe

"That went better than I thought, but exactly how I hoped."

She was glad her intuition hadn't turned to crap. Objectively, there'd been nothing wrong with her partners for a while, since her early days as herself, at least. But Ethan seemed really solid.

His second date was a bit of a cheat, as it was seeing him play at a club. His enthusiasm about his music had charmed her, even if he seemed down about its prospects. It turned out he and his band were good, playing sort of a catchy form of indie. If the crowd was a little small, they weren't immune to its charms.

While grabbing a quick bite afterwards, they mutually agreed on their next date -- a picnic lunch at Hubbard Park since it was supposed to be an unseasonably warm day.

As they took care of the food and wine, she couldn't help but wonder why they clicked. Sure, he checked off a lot of boxes, but it was something undefinable beyond that. She remembered from an old class, the judge who'd defined obscenity as "I'll know it when I see it."

"Maybe it's true of love, too."

Ethan interrupted her thoughts. "You know, I love Midnight Hour, but would you like to come back to my place first?"

"Very, very much."

They never made it to the bar.

That day? It wasn't perfect. He was new to being with a woman like her and they were new to each other. But their enthusiasm made up for a lot and they soon figured out how to work within their desires and boundaries.

Having lunch with Rachel one day, she said, "Thanks for making me introduce myself to, what did you call him, 'Hottie McHotface'?"

"You did it yourself, girl. And that good, eh?"

"Totally. It's like he's like the best friend I've ever had and then the sex."

"Do tell."

"I could tell it was new to him, but he hit that sweet spot between being eager and too eager, like he was willing to explore with me rather than show off what he thought he learned from porn. And he's a quick learner, too. He does this thing with his-"

"Ladies, are you ready to order?"

"Um, yes, sure. I'll have the shrimp salad."

The blush fading, Chloe thought, "It really is great. I just hope we can take it to the next level."

Ethan

Dating a trans woman isn't any different than dating any other woman? "Yes and no," he thought.

Ethan couldn't claim familiarity with the topic that he had no first-hand experience with until recently. He just knew that Chloe was someone he liked, more than he had before. She had a different life experience and body, but he just tried to treat her how he'd want to be treated in that situation, which is to say he followed her lead.

And forget any differences she might have from a cis woman, she was just the best girlfriend he'd had. Any hangups he might have had were wiped away quickly by just how in tune they became.

There was just one problem. His dad had been out of the picture for years, but he was a textbook jackass, including fact-free opinions on LGBTQ people that he could state with all the bluster you'd expect. His mom finally stopped putting up with it, but she had a habit of staying quiet about such things after kicking him out.

His brother Chase, who'd just as well have been named Dad Jr., a 6'9" package of ignorance and mansplaining whose charm kept as well as an unrefrigerated milk truck abandoned in a Louisiana bayou for a month.

He was someone Ethan just grew to avoid. Any time he tried to speak up about Chase, Mom would just say, "Well, he's your brother." Even now, she tried to insist the opinionated behemoth was different than he used to be. Ethan wasn't that gullible.

And then there's the rest of the family, God. Ethan knew he needed to come out, as silly as it sounded to him. "Mom, I'm straight and this is my girlfriend." But how?

He knew Chloe was starting to get that itch. There were pictures of them he treasured, that he kept on his phone. But he told her, "These are for us." He hated doing it and he hated how he could see how she felt about it. But she didn't grow up with his family and...sigh.

And his music. He loved the creative outlet, but it felt like he was getting thwarted at every turn. Yes, the "Songs For Now" E.P. was coming out, but things weren't good at the label. It looked like, at best, he'd be getting dumped and, at worst, the label would go under. He knew Neil, who'd started dating Greg, would stick with him, but the other guys?

"I bet I can get a promotion soon. Maybe I'm better off just quitting this crap. Time to grow up, probably."

But Chloe first. Have to make it official. After the show.

"Who's texting me? Shit. Not now."

Chloe

"Okay, what's wrong?" Holly asked as she handed Chloe a mocktail.

"Nothing, really."

"Come on, now. I can see it. Trouble with Ethan?"

"No. I mean, maybe. It's been great, really great."

"But-"

"He hasn't told his family yet, which, he doesn't talk about them much, but I gather it wasn't the best. But it's like he's hiding us. You notice he hasn't officially said he's dating me on social media even with pics from here and all."

"I'm the first woman Tina's ever been with and it took her time to admit her sexuality, which having been there myself, I wanted to give her time. But I did start to get impatient."

"But she did and look at you two, now. I just don't know that Ethan will get there. He's making me feel like I did years ago. The first two guys I dated wanted me on the down low. When I started to put my foot down with the second one, he got angry and it ended with him calling me a cheap lay and storming off."

"That's not Ethan, is it?"

"No, but I hate it even more that he's giving me flashbacks, even though he doesn't mean to."

"Sounds like you need to talk this out. Tina and I did. It wasn't easy and it might not be with him. But if he's worth it, he'll understand."

"Maybe," Chloe sighed as she put down her finished drink and paid Holly.

As she walked back home to finish some remote work, a flier on a light pole caught her eye-- "Live at The Store Tonight (Friday): Ethan Hammond."

"Sonofabitch."

Chloe had no idea why he didn't tell her he was playing tonight, so she sat in the back, disguising herself further with an old baseball cap.

It was another good set, about 45 minutes worth, not that she noticed as she seethed more.

Afterwards, she saw Ethan at the merch table talking to a middle-aged woman and the bouncer at the club. She approached, "Hi, Ethan."

He was too busy being stunned to fully read the look on her face.

"Oh, um, hi. Mom, Chase, this is Chloe. She's a friend of mine from the neighborhood where I live."

"Nice to meet you, Chloe."

"Likewise. Ethan, I didn't know you were playing tonight."

"It was a surprise show."

"Oh, cool, You guys sounded good. Catch you later," she said, trying to sound enthusiastic, but not caring that she didn't. She walked out quickly, lest she see his face.

Ethan wanted to chase after her, but he'd already let Neil go off with Greg because they had late dinner plans. So, he had to stay with the merch. Plus, Mom and Chase ("What the hell is he doing here?") were lingering. The table was now a prison cell until he could get them to leave.

It took what felt like days, but he got them out of there, promising to meet up with them tomorrow. He took the merch back to his apartment and decided to try the Midnight Hour first.

Upon entering, he saw her with Rachel and Tessa, none of them looking happy.

"Excuse me, Chloe. Can we talk?"

"Yeah, I think we need to."

As they found a secluded corner spot, she lit into him with a fury that belied her lack of volume.

"What the hell was tonight about? You don't tell me you're playing and then you call me 'your friend'? What is wrong with you? I open myself up to you and you treat me like I'm some plaything."

"That's not true. I didn't tell you because I found out Mom was coming. I didn't even know about Chase."

"So, you're that ashamed of me?!?!?"

"No, that's not it, at all. Look, I've told you. I know I need to come out to them, but it has to be the right time. And tonight wasn't the right time."

"Coming out? I'm a woman. Dating me doesn't make you gay."

"I know that and you know that, but my family? They aren't going to see it what way and, again, tonight wasn't right-"

"I'd say that's true, but you know what, Ethan? You opened my eyes tonight. There's never going to be a right time."

"Look, I didn't want them there, either, even though it's probably one of my last shows. I need to be in the real world. The music's not happening."

"You're giving up on that? I can't believe you, Ethan. I thought you were special. I loved the way you made me feel, but you know what? You're just a coward. You're giving up on what you love. The music and me."

"That's a cheap shot. I'm not, God. I love you!"

"No, you don't. I'm just one of your 'friends.' You've made that clear. I think you should leave."

"But-"

"Get the hell out!"

Ethan

"They won't mind if I just stay here in bed with my head covered all day."

But knowing his family, Ethan resignedly didn't really feel like having them here, even with Chase being weirdly un-Chaselike last night. He got up to meet them at the hotel restaurant for brunch and whatever else they had planned.

He'd wanted to stay last night, to convince Chloe, but he saw it in her face. He'd blown it.

He was completely on autopilot, hoping they wouldn't see how crushed he was. 0-for-3. Three strikes. I'm done.

Still, he managed to have a presentable face when he met them. He was absentmindedly poking at a stack of blueberry pancakes, when Sharon spoke up.

"Ethan, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Why?"

"Something obviously is. You haven't been the same since you saw Chloe last night. You seem to like her as more than a friend. She doesn't feel the same?"

Ethan took a deep breath. "No, it's not like that at all. I mean, I do like her, I love her actually. And she feels, felt, the same."

"But you called her a friend last night. Why would you-"

"Because I was afraid of how you'd react if you knew."

"But she seemed like a lovely young woman."

"She is. A lovely young, transgender woman."

"Oh. Oh."

"Yeah. We met at this bar and it was the best connection I've ever had.Nobody I've ever been with has made me feel like she has and I think I was doing the same for her, but I was too worried about what you and the rest of the family thought and I didn't tell you in time. I screwed it all up."

"Oh, Ethan."

"There's my resolution for the new year. To not be a complete idiot. Too late for her."

"How could you ever think that about us?"

"I remember how Dad used to talk and you never contradicted him. Even though you had the good sense to kick his ass out, you never really did counter him. And don't even get me started on him. I'm sure he's ready to fill in for Dad," Ethan said, motioning to Chase.

Silent to this point, his big brother said, "We really haven't talked lately."

"There's a reason for that. And?"

Chase sighed, "I said some awful crap in the past, but the last few years have shown me I was wrong about a lot of things. I'm sorry I didn't speak out more, that I didn't reach out to you. Look, I don't understand, but I'm not Chloe and I'm not you, so it's none of my business. Wait, that's not entirely true, seeing you like this is."

"You're not going to spew insults about her and me?"

"No, if I were going to, I'd be ten years younger and I already would have. Look, man. It's clear you love this Chloe. Maybe you can talk to her-"

"I tried and failed, but thank you. I guess if I ever meet a new best girlfriend I've ever had and she happens to be trans, I've got it covered."

"Like that's going to happen."

Back to the present

Ethan polished off his second drink, left cash on the bar and got up to leave.

Holly said,"Hope to see you again."

"I'd like that,but it's probably not a good idea. This is Chloe's place and she doesn't want me around," Ethan said, pulling out an extra 10 bucks and putting it on the bar. "Thanks for everything, though."

Chloe

It was going to be a drown your sorrows kind of night. She thought that it would be better with Rachel and Tessa than alone.

She put down some food for Pancho and Lefty, then took a look at herself in the mirror. Her ensemble, the makeup with the heavier eyeliner than usual, didn't say "Screw you, Ethan" so much as it said "Well, this beats eating a pint of gelato solo."

She still couldn't believe she'd let him get so close, after all this time getting a good read on people. Everything about him said he was special, but it turned out to be garbage.

She was almost at The Midnight Hour, turning the corner when she almost ran into a beefy guy who looked like he played for the Knicks.

"Ethan's brother?"

"Chloe, if you have a few minutes, can we talk?"

A few minutes (and more) later

Ethan checked his email, finding one from Derek Patterson, who owned the studio where Songs For Now was recorded. He skimmed through it, snatches of it registering -- "Played the EP to show off the sound we got," "band loved it," "manager wants to contact you for name clients," "write songs with/for them," "thinks you deserve a label deal."

"You have got to be kidding me!" he said, his celebration cut short as he realized that, as with his realization of his family's acceptance, it was too late for him, for them.

His phone buzzed. "What does Chase want now?"

"Ethan, there's something I need to talk to you about. I'm at a bar called McGillicuddy's. You know it, right?"

"Yeah, but I just need to get some sleep."

"It's really important, okay? It's something I haven't told Mom yet."

"Okay, fine. Give me 20 minutes."

"Great, see you then."

Ethan got to the Irish bar, only to see Chase standing outside.

"Hey, man," Chase said. "It's a little too crowded in there. Let's walk instead."

"So, what's the problem, Chase?"

"It's a little difficult for me to say. I need to get the words right."

Chase didn't need to stall for long, as they were only a block away from The Midnight Hour to begin with.

"Oh, no. What are you trying to pull? I'm not going in there again."

"Maybe you should."

"No, I'm not going to go into a place where she hates-Chloe?"

"Hey, Ethan. I hear you told your family about us after all."

"Too late. I told you I needed the right time. I don't know that you dumping me was it, but here we are. Sorry it's too late for us."

"Maybe it's not too late. Look, I get being in a relationship with someone like me is new and your brother filled me more on what your father was like and what he was like. I'm sorry I didn't trust you to do the right thing."

"I'm the one who should be apologizing. You deserved someone who's open about the joy you give them. One thing, though, I was never ashamed of you. I was ashamed of myself. I hated that I was hiding it, hated that what happened to me when I was a kid screw everything up. I love you, Chloe. I always will."

"I love you, too, but you're still giving up on-"

"That was just frustration, which I would have-look, I got some really good news on that. Here, hold on."

She took Ethan's phone. "Oh wow. They just played the arena! And a new deal? I'm so happy for you!

"We'll see. Some things have to happen first. None of it might happen, but maybe it's the universe telling me to listen to the most beautiful woman I've ever known who was also kind enough to keep at me not to give up."

That familiar tingle grew into a loud buzz in Chloe's said. She tucked her hair behind her left ear, asking,"So, about us? I think we're worth another shot."

"Beautiful AND wise. Yes, we're worth it," Ethan replied before they enveloped each other in a warm, kiss-heavy embrace.

Having given them distance, Chase said, "You two take care of each other. And don't screw this up. You've got a keeper there."

"I won't," Chloe said.

Chase shook his head, smiled and said, "I was talking to him."

"He's right," Ethan said. "Say, what do you say we go inside and give them the good news?"

"Um, I think they're aware," motioning inside so he could see Rachel, Tessa, Neil, Greg, Holly and Tina, all smiling and waving.

Holly had put two tables together in the back, so they could all sit together. Chase even joined in ("Who is this guy and what has he done with my brother?").

He and Chloe both thanked Chase for his intervention, which she could tell still surprised Ethan.

They also thanked Neil for dragging him to Midnight Hour that night.

"Guess you liked more than the vibe, eh, Mr. Lone Wolf," he replied with a wink.

The spirits were good. There were promises to be there tomorrow for New Year's Eve. Ethan shared the good news that his music might start paying off, to which Holly said, "I'd say I hope you won't get too big to play here, but I'd be lying."

"You're adding live music?"

"Indeed, I am. Tina's been suggesting it for a while."

"If it works out, I'd be glad to, any time."

Chloe gave him a playful elbow to the ribs when he asked if she knew the name of a good graphic designer to do album artwork.

He also took his share of deserved needling.

"Well, I'm glad Hottie McHotface finally pulled his head out of his butt," Tessa finally said.

Ethan didn't have a background in comedy, but he executed a perfect spit take as Chase burst out laughing.

"Oh, God. I'm never living that one down am I?"

"No, little brother, you are definitely not."

"Definitely," Neil added, as Ethan would find out months later when he found bumper stickers with the nickname on it all over his guitar case at the apartment after he and Chloe moved in together.

"I should go tell Guillermo to take over so I can be off duty for a bit," Holly said.

"Bathroom break," Ethan said, excusing himself. Chloe didn't see him, but he paused to say something to Holly at the bar. Chase and Neil did see, but had no idea what made Holly smile.

When he got back to the table, Holly was there. He gave a little finger signal to her as he told Chloe, "I love you so much and I'm never going to screw this up again. Promise," and gave her a kiss.

"That's as good a New Year's resolution as any," she said as she kissed him back.

This drew a reaction from the table, of course, except from Holly, who was surreptitiously taking pictures of it with her phone.

A short time later, Ethan handed Holly his phone, asking, "Say, can you take a pic of Chloe and I?"

"I'd love to."

The pair moved in closer together, with huge smiles as they made contact, the loud buzzing they both felt amplified.

Ethan looked at the pics on his phone, finding one in focus that was perfect. That smile from the first date that hit him square in the heart, his expression looking like he felt that night.

He showed Chloe, "So, what do you think of this for the first photo of us as an official couple to the world?"

Chloe, her sense of trust restored, flashed back -- to their meeting at a bar, of all places, the chemistry that had been so obvious, the relief that the openness she deserved, that he did, too, was now in place.

"Took you long enough. I love it," she said.

"Well there's one or two others," Ethan said as he opened them -- one of the kiss and one right after where they clearly looked as deeply in love as they were.

"All of the above," she said with a look of gleeful determination, adding with a stop sign motion before leaning in to kiss Ethan again, "No cameras this time. This one's for us."



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