“Wanna help me bury a body?” I wish I had a friend to ask this favor.
Frank was the person that I wanted to kill. I was beginning to believe that coming to L.A. with him was a huge mistake. Being a total non-conformist, there was no way that fascist pig was going to control me.
Making for the bathroom I noticed an envelope had been slipped under the motel door. Opening it carefully, unsure it was even for me I fingered a folded piece of paper and a twenty dollar bill.
The letter was from Frank.
Look for clothes shops and a hair salon today.
It wouldn’t hurt to search for a job, too.
I’ll be back for dinner. Use this $20 for food.
Offering an irritated sigh, I tossed the envelope, letter and money on the night stand. There it was, only the second day into my L.A. crusade and I already had an artistic clash with my manager.
Even if I was to suspend reality for the sake of argument and follow Frank’s advice – dress like a pin-up girl while plagiarizing the starchiness of Debbie Gibson’s music – what kind of people would I attract? I could see my fans being mostly teens, and my pop-rock career would last all of a minute – only to be forgotten before my name is a household word. I just couldn’t live with myself.
Considering calling a truce between Frank and I to illuminate the added stress made me cringe. I was certain he didn’t deserve even the slightest hint of an apology. Not very good at admitting my faults, let alone repenting for forgiveness, I was withdrawing from the notion of performing such a noble act. My pigheaded and very short tempered tendencies were no match for Frank. But if I didn’t tone it down a bit, I'd be on the street again. I had enough self-control to see that.
Frank drove me to drink.
I can’t remember if I moved too fast, or if it was the smell of a recent peppermint burp, but an overwhelming sense of nausea snuck up on me. Rushing over to the porcelain god, I projectile vomited with enough force to cause me to yell out in agony. Quickly flushing the noxious minty scent before another bout of purging ambushed me, I sat on my knees, very still, hoping for it to pass.
After several minutes, I felt my stomach settle. The debilitating pounding in my head subsided. Maybe drinking an entire bottle of shitty liquor wasn’t the brightest way to resolve my anger.
A faint whiff of chlorine from the tap carried to my nose. I forced down the percolating acid that threatened to re-surface.
The bathroom stopped rocking. I was finally able to wash without any purging interruptions. The cold awakening of a half-hour shower brought me back to life. I made a pot of coffee with the complementary grounds in the kitchen. I then threw on a pair of stone-washed jeans, a white tank top, and my low-top leather boots. Pulling my hair back with a clip, I headed out to find some cheap clothing shops.
I opted to ask the front desk. I had no clue where anything was, and to avoid getting lost, I thought it best to at least see if they had a map.
There was a young girl working the counter. She looked to be early twenties, possessing a style very similar to punk: shoulder-length curly auburn hair, wild and teased; large looped earrings, hanging lower than her locks, and a turtleneck tank under a denim jacket.
As I approached she looked up. Smiling politely, she spoke, “Can I help you?” She moved a curl that fell in front of her blue eyes. I saw that her wrists were stuffed with dangle bracelets in gold, silver, and white.
“Can you tell me if there are any second-hand or vintage clothing shops nearby?”
She immediately responded with a hint of valley girl in her accent. “Actually, there’s a gem of a shop two blocks from here down Highland. It’s a hidden treasure. I shop there on lunch breaks. It’s called Jill’s Unique Boutique. She sells a lot of hand-me-downs from the rich.” She paused, obviously excited to share this fashion secret.
“Take a right out of the parking lot,” she continued. “Go two blocks, and a left on Olive. It’ll be on your left - three quarters of the way down. You can’t miss it – there are movie star look-a-like manikins in the front windows.” She studied me intently.
“Great. Thanks” I started to walk away then remembered, “Do you have a map of the area I could have?”
“When you head out the front door, there are some local attraction fliers. They’re with them.”
“Thanks again.” Since I was probably going to take up an extended residency there I felt compelled to introduce myself. “My name’s Yari, by the way. I’m in room 12A.”
Her face lit. “Amy.” She responded in a winey, valley-girl twang. “I love yours. It’s so, existential. And mine is totally trite.” She finished with an adolescent frown, apparently unhappy with the name her parents bestowed upon her.
“Well,” she made me feel like a new pet or toy with her goggling. It was awkward. “I’ll see you around.”
“Cool,” she called as I strolled off. “I work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.”
I winced when the bright sun hit my face. The weather was milder, cooler than my initial onset.
Heading down Olive Drive, I kept an eye out for the shop. I found it without a hitch. Amy was right. There were mannequins in the front windows flanking the entrance. The figures were cheesy as hell. One was dressed to look like Madonna – fishnet stockings and all. Another resembled that of Liza Minnelli. The black tapered wig and massive eyelashes gave it away.
I peered through the window of the door. It wasn’t busy inside. Going for the handle, I happened to notice a ‘help wanted’ sign leaning against the glass.
The door buzzed as I passed through the threshold. The immediate scent of leather and an unrecognizable designer perfume drowned my nose. A local rock station was playing from a boombox on the check-out counter.
Circular clothes-racks were jammed into the one-leveled shop. There was barely enough room to walk. Changing rooms adorning psychedelic fabric tied to the side like drapes were in the back. The walls were slathered with album-covers, used concert stubs, scarves, hats, and posters of Duran-Duran, Wham, Madonna, Bon Jovi, White Snake, and Ratt. The decor reminded me of a teenage girl’s bedroom – really tacky.
“Hey there,” a perky woman’s voice chimed.
I looked up to see a thirty-something chic beaming ear to ear. Her atrocious attire looked . . . intentional: mini, white leather skirt trimmed with lace, and a burgundy halter top covered with cotton netting. Coincidently, or not, her look melded with the boutique, as if she were a fixture. The thick bushy hair that finished her look was black and teased to oblivion. Blonde highlights shot out of this cosmetology nightmare. Her age surpassed the teeny bopper fashion statement.
“Hi.” I offered with a remote smile.
“You don’t look like you’re from around here,” she opted through a red lipstick grin.
I felt uncomfortable. “Is it that obvious?”
“Well . . .” She squinted, clutching her teeth with her lips. “You could use a little . . . color.” Trying to be polite with her imprecise, yet safe description of me, she looked me over vicariously.
It was so apparent what she was doing. Clearly, she wanted to do a makeover on me. And there was no way I was going to let her touch my look.
“I’m here to get a couple of outfits.” Looking around the shop for a trendy garment scapegoat to prove to this shopkeeper that I did have some fashion sense, unfortunately, though, there was nothing quick to save me.
“Excellent,” she replied, rushing to my side.
I felt compelled to end her assessment before she got carried away. Her style was definitely not for me. But before I could protest she cut in on me.
“What’s your name, honey? I’m Jill. I’m the boutique owner. Forgive me for being so forward, but I feel we can create a masterpiece here.” She took her pointer finger and air painted an S-shape in front of me to mimic a blank canvas for this “masterpiece” that she was dying to create.
“Yari. And, I’m actually here for a specific look.” I was typically reticent with strangers. But there was something curious about this acentric calamity.
Jill’s face turned to intrigue over the mysterious clothes that were sought.
“I’m a singer – a rock singer.” I added. “I want a style that’s appropriate to my music.” I was sure she was imagining black leotards and a tube-top. This idea needed to be immediately pulverized then burned from her mind.
“Ooh, what sort of rock do you sing?” I detected the Barbie-dress-up in her eyes. Barbie and the Rockers, I was not.
“It’s sort of indie rock, which doesn’t really have a definite look. So I’m going off of what I like.”
My eyes wandered to a rack of leather clothes, contemplating pants in the flashy material.
Jill followed my gaze. “Leather is a classic look, very versatile. Everyone wears it – pop singers, rockers, even the retro crowd.”
The fact that everyone was wearing them certainly made me rethink the idea. I wanted to be different. That was the point of my arguments with Frank.
I was compelled to the conforming garb though.
Poking through the leather rack, I honed in on the price tags. They were cheap for stuff that looked like new.
“You have a flattering figure.” Jill caught me off guard with this comment. “What size pants do you wear?” A look of curiosity flashed over her face. She eyed my roomy jeans.
“Uh, these are a five.” I chose jeans that were always a little bigger than my actual size. I didn’t like the feel of a permanent wedge in my ass.
“Leather is very flattering. If you decide to go with that look, go down a size,” she said strident in her suggestion.
Poking through the brown, black, and red pants, Jill snatched up a pair of white ones.
“Perfect,” she chimed, leaning the garment against my body. “They’re a three.” Jill added.
My eyes bugged with amused shock.
“I can’t squeeze into those.” I took the hanger from her hand and scrutinized the tiny garment with a dubious gape. “They look like they’re juniors.” I exclaimed with a chuckle, not disappointed in the compliment, however.
“Sure you can,” she encouraged, eyeing the sheen material with cartoonish zee. “They’re used. So they’ve been stretched already. They’re like a four.”
I looked at her with disbelief. She had to be joking. Plus, white made me nervous with any piece of clothing. The fashion rule that black was slimming and white added weight discouraged me from ever purchasing the shade.
As if she read my mind, Jill intoned the words, “Let’s see if there’s a black pair in the same size.” She rummaged within the rack. Her excited hands shuffled through the hangers with lightning speed.
“Ah-ha,” she exclaimed. I had been eyeing a hot pink shirt against the wall when she seemingly found what she was looking for.
I smiled fretfully.
“It’s your lucky day, Miss Yari. These are going to look incredible on you.” Not thinking it could be possible, Jill’s smile grew even larger, soon reaching her ears.
“Cool,” I cringed. My eyes were still drawn to the swanky blouse. I was half-listening to her.
I finally walked to the alluring top, pulling the hanger from the rack to eye it closer. It was a spandex halter overlaid with chiffon. Sleeveless with a scooped neck-line that didn’t offer any cleavage, the wispy pink material mimicked a shredded look, hanging loosely over its fitted lining.
“You have great taste.” Jill crooned after sneaking an impressed whistle.
There was another gray shirt in the row that also flirted with me. Retrieving that one from its hideout, I couldn’t resist a smile over the lucky find. It was perfect for me: a tasteful V-neck ending at the start of the cleavage cusp, with black specks shimmering throughout the material. Sleeveless, the blouse was a low half-shirt.
“Do you carry belts?”
A perky shriek sieved her broad smile. “You are going to look kick ass, my friend.”
I chuckled over her unusual excitement for a stranger’s wardrobe.
I was looking for a style that wasn’t retro.
“So tell me, Yari?” Jill was fingering a silver chained belt, dangling it against the pants she still held for me. “Where are you from?”
I smirked in response, sensing her genuine interest to hear my story. “I’m from New England – Mass.”
I did a double take over this random tidbit into her life.
“Men,” she grunted, shaking her head in disgust. “I’ve had five serious relationships in my life and not one of those jerks had the decency to propose. You’d think they’d want to grow up at some point, right? That’s the problem - men want to be boys their entire lives.”
“Are you from L.A?” I asked, rejecting another flashy leather belt.
Somehow I defied the laws of physics by spanning the slinky leather over my protruding backside. Zipping the pants, I rotated in front of the mirror to assess every angle. My butt and hips were exaggerated, might as well have been naked.
Slipping on the hot pink top I cringed. My boobs looked inflated. Looking down at the dominatrix belts, I opted out for fear of adding additional sleaze to my look. I then slid the unstinting boots on my feet.
“How you doin,’ honey?” the shop keeper’s sprightly voice veered immediately from behind the curtain. “Let me see.”
I hesitated. I did need another opinion on this critical look. Better it be from an unbiased stranger than Frank. But from someone who looked like Kate Bush? God help me.
I slowly emerged from the dressing-room.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she gasped.
“What?” I asked self-conscious, folding my arms to cover my blatant breasts.
“Zut alors!” she exclaimed. “You’re gorgeous.” Jill then clapped her hands in approval.
My brow gnarled. How could she think that? “I look like a whore.” My pants were unseasonably fitted, to say the least.
Anything showing my figure that would provoke nasty thoughts in a guy, I avoided. This adverse position stemmed from the gross, deviant behavior of my father.
“Not even the slightest.” Jill corrected my visual portrayal. “You do realize what city you live in, right? Compared to the women that frequent the night clubs and bars around here, you look like a nun.” She couldn’t resist a boisterous laugh at her analogy.
“Jill, be honest with me here. I have to go on stage wearing these clothes, and I don’t want to be the laughing stock of southern California.”
Her determined gaze never left mine. “I take fashion very seriously. You can trust me when I say, you look gorgeous.” Jill’s face was earnest, her eyes soft.
I believed her.
“You just . . .” Jill started and broke off.
“What?” I pushed, suddenly even more anxious about my flaws.
“You just need to work on your hair, honey.” Jill’s face blanched, as she hazed over my tousled locks.
I couldn’t resist a dark chuckle. The devil was in the details.
“Oh good – you’re laughing.” She sighed in relief. It wasn’t her comment that rubbed me wrong, but rather the effect that my bland looks were having on people.
Jill strolled over to inspect me closer.
“I was gonna look for a salon.” I leaned away slightly from her intruding gaze. “Do you know of one nearby?” I was afraid to ask.
“You are in luck. Jill’s Unique Boutique is your one stop shop for complete beautification.”
I turned to her puzzled.
My lips suppressed a daunting smile over this unfiltered revelation into her seemingly unconventional life. She had me beat with erratic impulses.
“Yeah, there was this guy, and, uh . . . well, let’s just say, he turned out to be somewhat of a lazy-ass beach bum.” She shook her head contemptuously, as her hand waved off the silly memory. “All he wanted to do was hang out at the beach. Sure my tan rocked, but I am not a sit-still kind of gal. I need to move – do things.”
I wondered if she was this open about her life to everyone she recently met.
Considering what she said about beauty school, my skeptical gaze scanned the fire hazard on her head. That’s all I needed was for this beauty-school drop-out to get her uncertified hands on me – occupational hazard.
“Do you remember what you learned in hairdressing school?” I quickly took a visual left hand turn from her hair before she associated my staring with this dubious question. I didn’t want to insult her, but my hair was at stake here.
Unfortunately, she made the connection. As flighty as she portrayed herself, Jill had the aptitude to be quite sharp. “Don’t worry, my dear. This,” Jill mingled her fingers within a tuft of frizzy hair. Her smile never faded, “is natural, what you see here, except for the blonde streaks, of course.”
“Elephant rollers,” she exclaimed with two cupped hands forming the shape of a large circle.
I was at a loss. The last time I did anything remotely stylish to my hair was back when I was singing at Cobra’s. All I did then though was a little tease and a lot of Aqua Net.
I waited for further explanation into these oversized curlers.
Exploring my hair further, I cringed over her dissecting eyes. Was my hairdo that pathetic?
I waited for the verdict.
“Your hair is nice and thick.” Jill exalted. “I love the chocolate-brown color. You don’t need highlights. Blow-drying the waves will get it straight. And the rollers will help with the volume.”
The process sounded way too involved. I’d never invested that much time into my appearance. The attention that I typically gave my hair involved a hasty swipe of a brush, and a quick stroll by the mirror. How the hell was I gonna blow dry this disaster straight, then wrap it with rollers?
I turned to face Jill, and caught my reflection again in the dressing-room mirror. With the new garb I looked so much older than seventeen. It was daunting. The juvenile freckles had just about disappeared, too.
“What’s wrong?” Jill shifted to face me, consideration squinted at her lids. “We can think of a different hairstyle if you’re not interested in the rollers?”
I snapped out of my retained silence.
“No, that actually sounds really good. Where can I get curlers like that?”
Hand under chin again in her thinking pose, Jill was quiet for a second. “I have an old set from my beauty school days. They’re yours. Uh, they’re at my town house though.”
I offhandedly blurted out before forgetting, “Um . . . I happened to notice that you had a ‘help wanted’ sign in the front window. Are you still looking for someone?”
She gasped. “I’ve been searching for months. I need help on my busy days – Fridays and Saturdays. Are you interested?”
I didn’t mind the possibility of Jill being my boss. But then my vicarious situation hit me. I was a seventeen year-old runaway. There was no way that I could give Jill my social security number, or any other personal info. What if I got tracked down? What if by some unlikely chance Marty was looking for me, and he got the cops involved?
Right, like my picture was on a milk carton.
And I didn’t want to be found.
Jill read my face in its entirety. I got the feeling that the notion of a scandalous secret appealed to her prying senses. “I think that can be arranged.” A sly smirk crooked her fastened lips. “How soon can you start?”