“So you’re the Nelson, the athlete I’ve been hearing a lot about for the past few days,” the woman said, eying the swimmer from top to bottom as she walked around him.
“And you’re the Marina, the makeup artist I’ve only heard in the last half hour ago,” Nelson said.
“You can call me Mari.” She laughed and they greeted each other with a kiss on each cheek. After they finished, the woman turned to Cris with an angry expression. “So my little cousin hasn’t spoken anything about me… I can’t believe the betrayal.”
“Those words coming from someone known as a drama queen has little effect on me,” Cris said, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly.
“And that coming from you sounds like sarcasm.” Mari looked at her cousin with a defiant expression.
Cris narrowed his eyes and sustained her stare, neither of them making any sound.
Before he could stop himself, Nelson chuckled. He pretended to cough to hide, but it was too late. He showed a smile as the cousins turned to him. Then Mari and Cris smiled and laughed at the same time.
“You two look too alike,” Nelson said, looking between each other. “Are you sure you’re not brother and sister?”
“We’ve heard that before,” they said together and the three of them laughed.
“Not to brag, but the reasons for this is because I was kinda his heroin growing up.” Mari placed her hand on her chest and showed a fake humble look on her face. Then she gestured to Cris. “All of this is thanks to me.”
“Oh, so that means I can put all the blame on you?”
“Come, sit here, Nelson.” Mari looked at her cousin for a moment and then blatantly turned to the swimmer.
“Hey, answer me.”
The makeup artist ignored Cris as she turned the chair in front of the mirror around to Nelson. “We don’t have time to be laughing. Though you don’t need a lot of makeup, I need to check the colors that suit you before.”
Nelson looked at the chair with an empty face. Then, as his expression soured, he looked at the makeup set on the table. In the end, he turned to Cris. “Is this really necessary?”
“Yes,” Cris said, making no effort to hide how much he was enjoying the situation. “You need makeup if you’re gonna appear on TV. That’s common sense.”
“Whose common sense?”
Despite the smile, Nelson couldn’t find any lie on Cris’ words. “Still… This is more your kind of thing…”
“What?” Mari lost all trace of happiness. She walked to her cousin side and put both hands on his shoulders with an expression of indignation. “Are you saying just because Cris is gay means makeup and other normally girly stuff are his thing? It’s okay for a gay man to wear makeup, but not for a straight guy? Is that what you’re saying?”
Nelson looked at the woman with a blank expression, the complete opposite of her. “No,” he said in a voice devoided of emotion. “I said it’s his thing ‘cause when we met, he was wearing makeup. And dresses as a girl. And he also said that you’ve been using him to practice ever since you two were kids. So I assume he’s used to wearing makeup and has no problem.”
Mari stared at him for a moment, the silence filling the room. Then she turned her face and clicked her tongue. “Damn it. Cris told you’d be one of those who doesn’t get all jumpy under those kinds of talks. No fun.”
Nelson turned to his manager tilting his head. Cris chuckled and showed an awkward smile. “My cousin here likes to make people uncomfortable with speeches about minority and stuff.”
“It’s not my fault it’s fun to see people all jumpy,” she said, letting out a mean laugh. “There are people who kinda froze and others starts spouting apologies and that they never meant, praying no one thinks they’re discriminating… It’s really fun.”
“Okay…” Nelson turned to Cris and whisper loud enough for Mari to hear too. “I know I just met your cousin, but that’s a weird hobby she has.”
“Hey, I heard that. And come on, don’t be like that. You’re making me sound like a bad person,” Mari said with a yellow smile. Then she shook her head and waved her hand to dismiss the topic. “Instead of that, sit here so I can start.”
Nelson winced again at the chair again.
“When we say makeup, it’s not like we’re gonna put lipstick on you and make you cross-dress,” Cris said, trying not laugh at the idea. “No wants to see that.”
“Somehow, when you say that with an expression like this, it doesn’t make me feel better.” Nelson sighed and looked at the chair again. “Is this really necessary?” When Cris nodded, the swimmer sighed again and sat on the chair. “Fine, I trust you.”
“Great.” Both Mari and Cris smiled and spoke at the same time. However, Nelson had the impression his manager’s smile was slightly different than his cousin’s.
As the makeup artist began her job, a phone rang. Cris walked away a little before picking it up. “Hello? Yes, this is he. Okay, just a moment.” He placed a hand on the phone and walked back to them. “I need to answer this.”
“So Nelson, what do you think about my cousin,” Mari asked in a casual voice when they were alone.
“He’s a good guy. Just hanging out with him is fun. Though I must say he’s like you.” Nelson chuckled. The makeup artist had a puzzled face when she met his eyes through the mirror. “He likes to make people uncomfortable with gay jokes,” he explained.
Mari’s face lit with comprehension. Then she laughed. “That’s good to hear, I guess. It’s been long since I saw my little cousin having so much fun at work. But when I asked what you think of him, I meant as manager.”
“Oh.” Nelson narrowed his eyes a bit. He thought about Cris’ work as his manager for a moment, but the words just escaped him with a smile. “So far, he’s been excellent. Even though it’s been only two days, he made sure to organize everything. If not for him, today would’ve been a disaster thanks to my disorganization. But also, yesterday… If not for him by my side, I might’ve been a mess.”
“That’s a relief to hear.” Mari sighed and resumed her work. “I don’t know if he mentioned, but he’s sort of in the middle of a fight with the family.”
“Yes, he did say something about that… it seemed it was deeper than he let out…”
Mari kept quiet for a long time.
“Being a manager’s a temporary job. Many people do it more to get experience, a bit of cash and references from the club. But Cris… he’s been doing this for a long time now. Normally, he should be in college, or at least trying to get into one, but since he has no idea what to do, he remained as a manager.”
“He mentioned that too…”
“Yes, but no one wanted him to stay as manager. Even without the college stuff, being a manager has been… troublesome for him.
“What do you mean?”
“The last person he managed was this religious girl and she was… awful. She was one of those devout Protestants and whenever she could, she’d make mean comments and jokes about homosexuals and how they’d end up in hell. Cris tried his best to ignore it all without saying anything to us. Just to make his job. He put it up without complaining, giving his best to help the girl.” Mari stopped working and took a deep breath, as if trying to control her anger. “But the worst was when she lied to Cris. She invited him to her church, saying it was to pray for the Lord to success. But the truth was that it was one of those anti-gay masses made especially for him.”
“What?” Even if he had just met Cris, Nelson felt angry. “How could she do that to him?”
“Fanatics… That day… It really hurt him. More than he lets on… Being told by people he didn’t even know that he’d go to hell for being who he is, that he was doing something wrong just by existing….”
Nelson thought back of all those times Cris smiled at him. “I had no idea…”
“My cousin likes to joke around but he doesn’t want to burden anyone. He has always worked hard. But after that day, he resigned as manager. But when the family started pressuring him about his future, he decided to work as manager again. So I worried he’d still be affected by the last girl, but I was more worried about the guy he’d be helping.”
Nelson stayed in silence for a while, thinking about everything Mari had told him. He looked at her through the mirror. “I don’t know about the past, but I promise I won’t do anything to hurt him.”
“Good.” Mari showed a bright smile and resumed her work. “Then I guess I can leave Cris in your hands.”
Before Nelson could say anything, the door opened and Cris walked back. The manager looked between the swimmer and the makeup artist. “Sorry it took so long. What were you two talking?”
Mari and Nelson exchanged looks. “Nothing,” they said at the same time, exchanged looks again and laughed together.
“What? Tell me.”
“It was nothing,” Mari said, suppressing her smile.
“Yeah, nothing,” Nelson said, not meeting the manager’s eyes.
Cris pressed his lips, but then shook his head. “I’m gonna ask about this later, but right now, you got other things, Nelson. TV people are here.”
“Perfect. ‘Cause I’m done.” Mari put the finishing touch.
Nelson looked at his reflection. “I… don’t know what to say… At least it’s not what I expected…”
“What did you expect? A drag queen?” Cris asked, smiling.
“That did cross my mind, yes…”
“Then I’ll say this. You look good. But you look hotter natural.” Cris’ smile turned sly.
Nelson chuckled and smiled too. “Would it be too narcissistic if I agreed with that?”
“A lot, but I’ll allow that,” Cris said. Mari laughed and they turned to her. “What?”
“It’s just that you two seem friends that have known each other for years instead of two people who met a couple days ago.”
Nelson and Cris looked at her and then at each other and chuckled at the same time.
“Stop flirting you two. You can do that later,” Mari said with a smile. “They’re waiting for you.”
“Yeah…” Nelson stood up with great effort. He turned to the door and then glanced back at his reflection.
“You look good,” Cris said walking closer to the swimmer. “There’s no reason to worry. It’s just your first major interview after ages.”
“That’s what I needed. A bit more pressure.” Despite his words, Nelson let out a tired laugh.
“It’s my job,” Cris smiled.
Nelson stared at that smile and then sighed, doing the same thing before he noticed.
Mari watched everything in silence, covering her own smile.