Working for Jill was an experience in itself. Let’s just say, she was not a boring person to be around. Drama seemed to follow her like the plague. The endless angst that she maintained felt self-inflicted. If she stopped dating every guy that gave her the time of day, then her life wouldn’t have been such a spectacle. But then again, I think she preferred it that way.
Jill was a magnet for creeps. And not just with her men, her customers, too. The shop attracted some shady people. Most of the time I felt like my job title was unofficially, “Shoplifter Regulator.” The majority of these weirdoes came in just to rip her off. And Jill seemed oblivious.
I asked the customers to count the clothes in front of me before entering the dressing-room. Or, I’d follow them around like a stalker. It was ridiculous. But I felt an obligation. Jill was being taken for right in front of her face. It was like she didn’t care.
One afternoon I got into it with a loud-mouthed woman who was definitely on something. I saw her swipe a pair of earrings. The slick bitch put them in her pocket right in front of me.
“Don’t you accuse me of being a thief,” the hag screeched in my face. Her eyebrows were painted on lopsided, and her blood-red lipstick was so sloppy it looked like she just made out with a basset hound.
“You put it in your pocket just then. I’m not blind.” I glared at her undismayed by the confrontational shifting of her weight. “You either give them to me, or I’ll call the cops and they’ll throw your ass in jail.”
I told Jill after an altercation I had with another shoplifter, that it was good business for her to be more assertive with the customers. Her response was that she didn’t have it in her to be aggressive.
You could say that I ran the boutique when I was there. It was more important for her to decorate the place and make it look hip than turn a profit. I got the feeling that Jill was coddled by her folks. Outside of her shop, which was more of a hobby than a profession, she was sort of an assistant to her parents. Both of them were attempting a literary career. So she helped edit their work and run errands for them.
Whenever she told me that she graduated from UCLA with a degree in English, I nearly dropped unconscious. Why she didn’t pursue a career down that path I hadn’t the slightest. I did get the impression, however, that Jill was hopelessly in love with love, putting men before everything. It was like she lived in a fairytale world.
Dating was a full-time job for her. She had a new date every fourth day. Some of them lasted days - very few, weeks. But for the most part the first date would be the last.
Her expectations were a little unrealistic. Visions of Mr. Right were influenced by the Hollywood fabrications that her parents conjured up. The belief that this fantasy man existed she held strong to, refusing to settle for anything less than Robert Redford or Harrison Ford.
Her dates were great entertainment though. Every week she’d give me updates. I actually looked forward to the regaling. She had an uncanny knack for storytelling.
“Honey, you should have seen the nose hairs on my date last night.” Jill brought me up to snuff on one particular flavor of the week. “I swear they looked like tiny alien creatures trying to escape from his sinus cavities. Every time I tried to take a bite of my food at dinner I’d catch a glimpse of those black snarls then fight back bile.”
She always had me in stitches.
“The jerk opened the door for me to the movie theatre then rubbernecked with this slutty blonde passing by. He even winked at her.” Jill sighed over the details of yet another unsuccessful. “That was enough for me. I walked over to the half-naked bimbo, asked her for her name and number then gave it to him and left.”
After hearing about half a dozen of those dead-end trysts, I felt compelled to give her some of my ham-fisted advice. Someone had to warn her of the self-destructive pattern that she was on. Even if it came from a chic that didn’t have the experience that Jill had.
“Can I give you some advice?” I figured it was only polite to ask, since men were a sensitive topic for her.
“Of course, I’ll take anything.” Jill groaned.
“Have you considered being, maybe . . . I don't know, a tad pickier?” I tried to be as delicate as possible, offering a kindly brow. “I mean, you’re a pretty woman, a lot of guys are gonna be attracted to you – the appealing and the unappealing ones. That doesn’t mean you need to date them all. Be more . . . selective. Only pick the ones that are worth your time.”
“You’re right,” she frowned. “I really do need to establish a type. You must think I’m pathetic.”
“No.” I snorted. “You’re a romantic, that’s all.”
Jill was silent for a moment then offered a coy smile. “When we talk I forget that you’re eighteen. You’re more mature than most of my friends. And they’re in their thirties.”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her my real age. There were some things that Jill just didn’t need to know. And that was basically everything about me.
It was mid-September. The band interviews were more painstaking than I anticipated. Mainly due to the constant head-butting between Frank and I over the rhythm that the band should play. He was back on that holier-than-thou kick.
I, of course, wanted the band members to lean more toward hard rock with an indie vibe. Frank agreed, but he also wanted them to play mainstream. I knew it was too good to be true when he agreed on an indie band.
It took us two weeks to get a marginally descent group of guys together. Frank and I compromised. We had little choice with the musicians that flocked to us. The pickings were slim. We ended up with a punk-rock band that had a beach bum/hippy edge with the essence of Iggy Pop.
I had my work cut out for me.
The drummer reminded me of a Steve Tyler burn out. He played pretty well, but the light bulb was rarely lit in the think tank. His name was Keith Andrews, and he claimed to be twenty-two, but he didn’t look a day over eighteen. Our bassist called himself Bone. It would later become evident as to why he was christened with such an unflattering insignia by his buddies. Bone was quite the pot head. He was tall and gangly, with wispy auburn hair, and a large protruding nose. Older than Keith’s proclaimed age by a year, Bone had more of a personality, possessing an overconfident wit.
The final member to complete this hodgepodge band was Devin McKenna. The surfer dude exterior was misleading. Down to earth, he was a breath of fresh air in contrast with the other two. Tall with an athletic build, shoulder length honey-blond hair, brown eyes and hippy clothes, comprised this pretty decent guitarist. Devin was the oldest of the three at twenty-four.
The band’s laid-back personalities seemed to mesh. It just came down to showing them how to play the kind of rhythm that I envisioned my songs to carry.
Frank offered them a percentage of the gig takings, and a small weekly pay. They seemed all too eager to be a part of my vision.
Frank’s buddy, Nick Giovanna, who let us rent his basement for our rehearsals warned us to start using the space soon before someone else honed in. It would come to be our second home. We practiced an obscene amount of hours for weeks trying to extract a sound that felt right to me.
With my diverse voice I forged a unique sort of theatrical rock. Varied in pitch, I held high and low keys with little effort. This flexibility allowed for an influence in blues, jazz, rock, resulting in an alternative style. So it was vital to recruit a band as flexible as my voice.
Frank’s true colors shined during the rehearsals, being nothing short of a controlling, inflexible prick. We fought frequently while my passive band members remained diplomatic, patiently waiting for us to come to an agreement.
“How many times do we have to go over this?” Both hands on hips, and raging with petulance, I was at my wits end already, only two weeks into the jam sessions. “Black Rain” needs to have more of a blues edge.”
“For the love of God, these guys aren’t a friggin’ blues band – give me a break.” Frank’s hands were massaging his balding head feverishly.
Now yelling to get my point across for the last time, I blew up. “I’m not looking for Bone to play saxophone out of his asshole – that’s not what I want for the five-hundredth time. All I need is for them to take on more of a blues-like quality, with less drum.”
“How are you going to create that sound with a band that plays punk?” he spat.
I turned away from him. Bordering an explosive tantrum, I bit my tongue and slouched down into a ball with hands over head. Frank muttered something indecipherable and walked out of the room. A frustrated yell escaped my aggravated mouth. The guys looked on helpless.
Pacing the mustard colored carpet before the guys, I scowled erratically.
“Yari,” Devin spoke up.
Stopping my pissed-off tempo, I waited for him to speak without addressing him.
“Are you thinking more of a blues feel where the guitar dominates?” Devin faced me.
“Exactly that. Thank God someone gets it.” My hands raised in praise. “Think Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” Can you play that kind of blues on the guitar?” I asked hesitating with bated breath, hoping he could.
He chuckled bemused. “No one can play as good as him, but I could swing something kinda like it.”
My tone lightened. “Let’s give it a try.”
Positioning my stance in front of the microphone the guys waited for my signal. My leather pants were starting to irritate me, lowering in the back. Adjusting the waist without caring if anyone noticed, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. A staggered exhale escaped.
“Keith, start us off with the ride cymbal. Bone, a lighter base. Devin, your background pitch’s been perfect.” They nodded in response. Clearly exhausted, my band looked ready to call it a night.
The sound was a hit. Frank meandered back in during the middle of the track. His expression was muted. I ignored him and kept on. After the third take on the song, elation flooded my face. Hollering with excitement, I rushed over to Devin to give him a high-five. I turned a shit eating grin on Frank. There was no challenge for an argument from him.
“That wasn’t bad – not bad at all,” he confessed. “Alright, let’s wrap this up. I’m done fighting for the night.”
Frank and I had an unusual relationship. After leaving the rehearsals we turned reserved toward one another then went our separate ways once back at the motel. We were business partners and nothing more. It suited me just fine.
Nick let us store our equipment in the basement. We had exclusive rights to the space as long as we paid. So once we quit for the night, it was nice to just leave without cleaning up.
“Thanks again guys, you were great.” It was important for me to keep up the guys' moral, especially when all Frank and I did was argue in front of them. I appreciated their efforts. They were cool guys, very tolerant.
Reaching for my guitar, Devin stepped in front of my view. “You have a winning vision for your music. It’s a little bit of everything rolled up into one sound.” His attractive face was gushing with a meek smile.
“Yari, you coming?” the irritated voice of Frank called to me from the driveway through the open side-door.
Devin heard me groan.
“I can give you a lift.” He offered.
Relief in that proposal perked me up. “You don’t mind? It’s out of your way.” I whispered to avoid Frank’s ears from catching wind.
Devin lived in East L.A. He had a forty-minute drive. That was without dropping me off.
His charming grin always made me dither. From the time of our first meeting, I could tell that he was interested in me. My goal was to win the guys over and develop a working friendship with them. Not wanting to deflect from my priorities with mindless flirting, I treated Devin the same as Keith and Bone. We’d all gone for a drink a few times, casually, but that was the extent of it. The guys knew I was younger than them, but they had no clue that I was really seventeen. Frank told them I was eighteen and they believed it. In fact, when we hung out the first time, they confessed that they thought I was twenty-one.
“No, I don’t mind.” Devin appeared eager to save me from Frank’s wrath.
“Cool.” I flashed him a grateful smile.
“Devin’s givin’ me a ride.” I yelled to Frank.
Frank grumbled his approval and left.
Devin drove a 1980, Chevy G20 van. The dirty-white exterior had the exact surfing scene airbrushed on both side-panels: a large wave soaring over the shoreline with a solitary surfer riding the crest. The surfer resembled that of Devin, with blond hair and bronzed skin.
The rear windows were tinted white, matching the exact color of the van, making me suspicious of what dubious acts Devin might be trying to conceal within the confines of the van.
“Are you up for a nightcap before heading to the motel?” His intoxicating grin lured me in. He totally read my mind. I wasn’t eager to watch TV until I fell asleep again.
“There’s a bar at my place.” I suggested. “The bartender makes the drinks strong, and dirt cheap.” Adjusting my tank strap I didn’t want Devin to get the wrong impression of my invite.
The night was warm for fall, the sky clear. It was Friday, and that’s when the semi-permanent residents from the motel congregated in the small courtyard.
Devin’s laidback personality helped me to relax. The conversations between us felt more like date dialogue though - more on his end than mine. He grew-up in Monte Rio with two brothers he shared very little in common with. He graduated from Sonoma State University on a full soccer boat. But his ankle broke during a game right before graduation.
“Playing soccer wasn’t my thing anymore by then,” he elucidated. “I didn’t want to play in college. But because it was free, I just went with it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, still don't. After high school I hoped my future would be told to me. No one really prepares you for life, ya know? But I love music. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
He finally took another sip of his beer, pausing from the candor. We’d been at the bar for almost an hour, and Devin nursed only one drink. I was already on my third screwdriver.
He went on to confess that his dad was tough on him and his brothers - not accepting anything less than perfection. None of them had a good relationship, especially him and his dad. Apparently the old man didn’t approve of Devin’s wishy-washy take on life. Both his brother’s owned their own businesses - one an electrician; the other a mechanic. Both settled. But not Devin.
“They’re so responsible,” he grated. “I’m not ready to be so tied down like them. Besides, how can I? I don’t even have a career path. I’ve been doing construction with my buddy Al who owns a contracting business. I do roofing, siding and painting. It pays well. But it’s definitely not what I want to do for the rest of my life. The work is too unreliable, not to mention shitty. ”
“Your dream job will come.” I tried to offer optimism. But who the hell was I to talk Full House with him? I felt compelled to say something though. He was pretty forthcoming.
While he talked I couldn’t resist taking him in. It was difficult not to. Devin was no doubt a fine specimen of a man. The t-shirt that he wore was form-fitted to his athletic chest. The flawless skin that held his beautiful existence together was complimented by a hemp-rope necklace that lassoed as a choker on his neck. I never really noticed him in entirety until then.
“So, what’s your story?” he asked, half turned to face me – eyes sheepish and dreamy.
There it was – the dreaded Yari inquest – the topic that I hoped to avoid. I kept the details vague, making my life sound uninteresting, aiming to get off the subject quickly. I soon pushed him to talk more about himself. He didn’t seem to notice this manipulation.
The bartender yelled for last call. I knew then that it was late.
“I hope we can hang out again.” Devin said with a suggestive air.
I was certainly up for that, but felt the need to play hard to get. I just nodded with a smile.
We walked to my motel room, and said our goodbyes.
I was kind of surprised when he didn’t try to make a move on me. There was something about this guy that I liked.
It was the third week into our spell. I was at my wits end with Frank’s constant ridiculing. Devin relieved me of a near murderous rampage by inviting me out after rehearsal one night.
We were both hungry. I didn’t have time to grab something quick after work. Devin and I agreed to go for breakfast at an all-night diner a few blocks from Nick’s on SMB. The small restaurant was packed with people as was expected on a Friday night. The most popular bar nights habitually inebriated bar-rats who hung out after hours at these diners. It was like a moth to the flame – whoever drank or got high, flocked to the all-night dives that specialized in making grease-infused slop to ease their munchies.
That night Devin and I were legitimately hungry.
After the twenty-minute wait to get into the stainless-steel encapsulated trailer, we were glad to be relieved of the drunken banter emanating from the partiers in line.
Inside the eatery was tight and loud. We squeezed into one of the booths alongside the tinted windows.
“They make the best southwestern omelet here.” Devin was nearly drooling over his memory of the egg and meat conglomerate.
Eyeing the diverse menu, a waitress wasted no time extracting our orders before I had a chance to make a decision. I opted to go with what Devin recommended.
“How do they expect you to order so quickly when they offer a novel for a menu?” I complained.
Our low, collective chuckle was drowned out by the noise around us.
“Oh,” Devin jolted forward. “My friend Ethan is having a Halloween party at the end of the month. He wants us to be the entertainment. Are you up for it?”
Before I could congeal a response plates were already being set in front of us. Ignoring my food, my face broke into a juggernaut of excitement over the prospective gig.
“Hell yeah - I am so desperate to get back on stage again. Tell me about this party.”
He laughed at my animated response. “It’s a costume party, and I was hoping that you and I could, well, maybe, go together.” He winced after uttering this last bit.
Of course we were going to go there together. He was in my band. He must’ve noticed my confusion.
Absently, Devin looked down at his cheesy omelet. “What I meant was, for you and me to go as a couple, and dress-up as a couple.”
It hit me then. But my interest for the moment was with the gig.
“Uh, sure,” was all I could muster to the dress-up invite. My head was numb with the notion that someone personally requested us to perform for them. “So, your friend asked for us to play at his party?” I redirected. I couldn’t help it.
“Yeah,” he grinned at my over-zealous push for performance details. “Ethan has a huge finished basement with a stage area. Are you interested?”
My eyes blinked in shock. “I’m surprised you felt the need to ask. Of course I’m interested . . . available . . . desperate, not to mention ready to jump on a stage now. And yes . . . I would like to go as a couple’s theme together.”
I was beyond enthusiastic. The fact that it was just a shoddy basement party worked for me. And because Devin was the one who pulled it together, I was willing to do just about anything he wanted at that moment. So what if he wanted us to prance around as a ridiculous Halloween couple, he got us the gig.
“We won’t make any money, but I thought it would be great practice.” His demure smile didn’t fade.
“I don’t care about money – for now, anyway.” I finished with a stupid giggle.
“We can stay on the stage for as long as we want. This is an awesome opportunity to get some real raw feedback.”
“Oh man, this is so aweome.”
Movement to the right caught my attention. It was the waitress with the check.
“I guess that’s our cue that they want our table.” Devin snickered, grabbing the check.
My watch read three o’clock. An unexpected yawn tore at my mouth. I heard Devin chuckling over this indication into the night’s finale.
“So I think we’re ready for the demo this Monday.” Devin mentioned of the recent opportunity that Frank clued us in on.
“I hope so.” I said. “We’ve been working our asses off. It’s time to get the music out there.”
Devin walked me to the door of my motel.
“So, I was thinking,” he started with an auspicious smile, provoking my interest.
I turned to him in deliberation. We were only steps from my door when he pitched the repartee.
“Yes?” I said.
“What do you think about dressing up as Sonny and Cher for the party?”
We stopped at the entrance abruptly without realizing we were already there. This wasn’t the idea that I expected.
My head shot side-to-side from the humor of his proposal. I delighted in my laughter. His suggestion was brilliant, yet ridiculous at the same time.
I was hoping he’d ask to sleep over.
His laughter married mine. Upon the climax of our shared humorous babbling I noticed that he was pulling closer toward me. A final, private giggle escaped my lips. I wasn’t finding humor in his gesture, but rather, it was the itching anticipation of what could potentially result from this subtle movement. Not that it was funny, having sex with him. But rather, I was hot with anticipation.
We hadn’t kissed yet. It was something that I fantasized about often. And I would bet my shitty guitar that making-out with Devin would even make the old dried-up Queen of England blush.
In a way, the diner stopover was a date. An unrefined one, yes, but it could be labeled officially as a date. And at the end of a date, it is customary that the tongues roll.
Now only inches from me – he was close enough for me to almost feel his body heat.
With heavy lidded eyes and a serene mouth, Devin placed my hands in his. “You’re a brilliant singer.”
“You think too highly of me.” My mouth slanted with impatience. Devin probably mistook it as a grateful smirk to his compliment.
“No,” he smiled matter-of-factly. “I know you enough to believe this to be true.”
I shook my head in submission. His edible breath was upon me.
Our eyes stared in silence. I felt Devin’s hands release from mine – still my attention was focused on the tangible contemplation of his face.
With his next inhale, Devin’s large hands were cupping my cheeks and jaw line. He was still assessing my body language before the plunge. My eyes pleaded for him to come closer – I didn’t know how else to offer the green light. Was I that intimidating, or was he just relishing in the moment?
The anticipation was making my pulse sputter. I could hear the pumping of my blood knocking in my ears. The palms of my hands were clammy. I never worked this hard for a friggin’ kiss.
There he was, seconds from my lips. His eyes were closing. So were mine. Our heads slightly angled, creating room for our mouths to rest comfortably on the others.
Then he finally did it.
The curiosity of my hands left my sides, bound for his face then onto his hair. Surprisingly soft for a guy, his skin and tresses were silken to the touch. I wanted more than my fingers and palms could grasp though. Simultaneously, he, too, perused my cheeks then my neck. Our tongues found each other with a sweet desperation. I felt like a drug addict getting high after days of drying out. Delicious gluttony.
Our mouths were fastened for several moments. I let my hands gradually fall, pressing against his chest, then stomach, and finally to my sides again. Our lips parted.
Devin refused to let go though, continuing to hold onto my shoulders while we stared intently upon the other. Only inches from a renewed sense of lip locking, but we knew it was getting late.
“That was awesome,” he whispered with drunken eyes, blinking in slow-motion.
My blood felt a thousand degrees, gushing sluggish through my weakened limbs. His savory lips propelled my knees to jello, and my head to fog. If ever there was such a foolish possibility as believing a guy could be “heavenly,” Devin was the winner.
“Dido,” I said in response to his curious take on our tongue wrestling. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” Reluctantly I turned from his tentative hands.
A satisfied smile bent his lip sideway. “See you tomorrow,” he whispered.