Chapter 16

Because the music demo was scheduled for the following Monday, Frank wanted me and the guys to practice through the weekend. I didn’t have a problem with the cram-session. Our rehearsals were productive, albeit Frank’s bitching never ceased. To me and the band's tickled delight, however, he had an appointment Sunday afternoon. Which meant the sore on our asses, him, would be on a temporary hiatus.

It wasn’t just me, but the guys, too, were fed-up with Frank’s everlasting nit-picking. There was no constructive criticism that came out of his pie hole; it was just plain nastiness. Sometimes his management persona was blatantly phony with the way he picked at nonexistent flaws, like he was going above and beyond his call of duty to prove to himself that he was the best at his job. This superhero manager shit needed to stop.

I confronted him after rehearsal Friday night. It wasn’t pretty.

“That version was unbalanced. Try it again,” he vexed after our fifth take of “Enchanted.” Frank was sitting in the basement corner like a balding Hitler, barking orders.

His high horse was due to be lanced, and I was going to be the one to do it. I had enough. The sound was perfect, and my voice was flawless. Where the hell did he see the need for improvement? My tolerance went only so far.

“Do you think you could ease up on the hypercritical criticism?” I said, in his Camaro on our way back to the motel.

I told Devin I was hitching a ride with Frank to demand that he give the berating a rest. My goal was to attack the problem before the weekend. This way Frank would have the two days to get over what would inevitably become a feud between us.

He shot a cold, brooding look at me. “Don’t tell me how to do my job - just do yours.”

My tone was moderately reverent when I addressed the issue. So for him to shoot back a scathing reproof was fuel for the fire.

“Look, I don’t know what your interpretation of being a manager is, but acting like a slave driver all the time isn’t igniting some unfulfilled talent that you think we’re hiding. There’s another approach you might consider trying called positive reinforcement.” My face was torrid.

“Maybe I’m a little harsh at times, but it’s to keep everyone on track.” He avoided my glare.

“Keep us on track?” I shot. “What are we fucking grade-school kids? We’re adults that know what our responsibilities are, Swami Know-it-all.”

He glanced over at me quickly, shelling a disgusted look then turned back to the road. “You guys might know how to show up on time, well, some of you, but none of you know the music industry like I do.”

And there it was – his incessant reminder to me that he was so well informed and connected. If that were true, then where were the friggin’ gigs? This self-righteous kick of his was getting so old.

“Yeah well I’m still waiting for you to show me just how connected you are.” I rolled my eyes in irritation.

“Listen, you ungrateful shit, these things take time. There’s a process here that needs to be followed - one being, you and the band banging out halfway decent music. And let me tell you, its average at best right now,” he scoffed.

My hands balled into fists as my face froze in shock from the insult. Was he saying that just to get a rise out of me, or was the fucker serious with the deliberate jab at my music?

“Average? When was the last time you tried to write and sing a song? You don’t have a clue what’s good or bad. Don’t judge my music until you know what you’re talking about.”

His face was beaming red. The interior of the car went silent; we were both too pigheaded to end the night on a positive note.

When we arrived at the motel, we went our separate ways. And it was routine for us to avoid the subject the following day. But this throw-down match seemed to have been effective - Frank lightened up on the criticism for a fraction of the weekend, but was back to his old tricks in no time. And when he told us that he was going to disappear for the rest of Sunday, we felt reborn. That left us without Frank’s leering dark karma for the afternoon. We worked better without him.

I was eager to be cutting a demo that wasn’t in someone’s basement. A rented retail space off of Hollywood Boulevard, run by a guy named Rusty Gerome, would become my latest endeavor.

Frank actually behaved himself through the recording, for the most part. Every now and then though, his bossy side felt compelled to show its ugly face.

All in all, it was a success. I sang Black Rain, Enchanted, Hopeless, Dreamland, and my latest tortured ballad “Who Are You?” We rocked it out to perfection.

“You take my hand with hesitation,
Holding my gaze cautiously
While reading my thoughts with indignation,
Following my steps instinctively
I backup to free this aching hold,
To break the grip you have on me

Who are you?
With those angel eyes,
Boring into my soul
Capturing my curiosity
Just leave me in my brooding whole

The careful touch of your fingertips,
Forces down my guard
What is this control that you have over me?
Leave me in my misery
I hate you sincerely

Who are you?
With your perfect words
Making me feel humanly
I’m used to complacent hearts
You cause me to question my authority.

Who are you?
Beautiful one,
Of infinite integrity
Who are you?
Guiltless creature,
That sees the love inside of me?”

It was performed exactly how I had envisioned.

I left Rusty’s place pleased with the results. Even Frank couldn’t find flaws with the finished adaptations of my songs. The guys exuded massive amounts of energy when they played. It all felt so right.

With “Who Are You” I decided that Devin should have an increased voice in the song - making it almost a duet. But really he was just meant to be more prominence than the other two. I wanted more of a male presence.

Devin made reservations at a seafront restaurant on Route 1 that night, believing it the perfect amnesty following our hard work. Bone, Keith, and Frank were on to me and Devin’s trysts. The guys didn't seem to care. But Frank did shoot us a scathing eye or two when we left together after rehearsals. Fuck him - I didn’t need his approval.

I rushed to Jill’s shop immediately after he dropped me off, begging for fashion advice. She escorted me around, searching frantically for the ideal look. I warned her to keep her ideas grounded. She managed to force a skirt on me, mumbling some bullshit about Aqua Blue being an upscale restaurant, mandating that women show-off their legs.

In front of the full-length mirror that hung behind the bathroom door of my motel room, I sifted over my finished look with a fine toothed glare. I looked like a yuppie doll with my hair pulled back into a twist that Jill hastily finagled. The skirt was white leather, extremely fitted, ending two inches above the knee, with matching sleeveless top. The valley-girl ensamble was complete with white boots and nylons. I looked like a glass of milk.

A light rap came from the door. One final panic-stricken glance at myself then I turned to let him in.

Devin stood before me in a casual suite. His appearance took me for a loop. For some strange reason I expected him to be wearing his usual stonewashed jeans, tight shirt, and hemp jewelry. That certainly wasn’t the case. Instead, black slacks, a white button-down shirt, and black leather shoes were flashed before me. I chuckled to myself when I saw that his hemp rope accessories were still on his neck and wrist – still a little of him there.

When I finished my gawking and my eyes settled back on his face, I was surprised to see him gaping.

“I know – Jill picked out my clothes. It’s pretty bad, huh?”

“What?" A dumbfounded smile poked the sides of his lodged lips. "No way - you’re beautiful.”

“Really?” my voice leered.

“Uh-huh,” he econtinued to gawk.

“So . . . should we go?”

“Yeah . . . yeah,” he sputtered in a daze.

For the first time Devin opened the van door for me. I wasn’t sure how to respond to the unfamiliar gesture, so I climbed in forgetting to thank him.

Cruising down Sunset I noticed Devin shooting modest glances in my direction. Had he been nervous too?
There was a slight lull in conversation before reaching Route 1. U2 was rocking-out  “Where the Streets Have No Name” over the speakers. My eyes scanned the passing Sunset scenery. The blackened landscape was back-dropped by the illuminating dusk skyline. Colorless trees against the neon of the setting sky reminded me of a photo negative.

My thoughts were sucked back into the awkward silence of the interior of the van. It wasn’t like we hadn’t been seeing each other for the past few weeks. Why were we so edgy? Maybe it was the realization that things were heading down a more serious path for us. It was sort of unnerving. The last thing I imagined was me falling for a guy again. What the hell was I thinking?

Never had I experienced such a dichotomy of emotions over a guy than with Devin. I fantasized about him nightly, mainly about sex. The thought of a relationship sat bitter on my tongue. I didn’t want the commitment.
Which emotion had I feared most - commitment or loneliness? Was I even aware of their differences? I was an expert on loneliness, having mastered this art since birth. And being a part of something as untrustworthy as a relationship was like walking into the pit of heartbreak hotel – only doom awaited the naive.

“You’re awfully quiet.” Devin broke into my philosophizing.

“I’m just thinking about the demo today.” I offered the most obvious escape. “I hope it helps to get my name out there.”

“You were amazing today. Don’t worry about gigs. They’ll come.”

I wished I shared in his confidence.

Devin pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a coastal summer house. Contemporary in architecture, the restaurant had large windows wrapping the first level. A broad deck planted on massive stilts stretched the full length of the sides into the back.

I didn’t wait for Devin to open the car door. That would’ve been way over the top for me. We met at the front of the van. He greeted me with an augmenting smile then folded a gentle hand into mine.

The restaurant didn’t look busy. It appeared to be the off season, relieving me of some of my clothing anxiety. I was self-conscious enough wearing practically nothing in Devin’s presence. If strangers were staring at me too, I would’ve been sick.

Entering the restaurant we were greeted by a middle-aged hostess. Attractive and clearly well-kept with her fake everything, the women had to of been either the owner, or the owner’s wife.

“Evening,” her capped toothed smile sparkled at Devin. “Do you have a reservation?”

“Yes, it’s under McKenna.” He glanced in my direction and winked.

“Great - follow me this way.”

We trailed after the hostess who led us to a quaint table against the panoramic windows. The view of the Pacific was shrouded in darkness.

The restaurant had an elegant nautical theme. A delicate thread of classical music fluttered in the background.

The hostess handed us leather-bound menus. My amazement must have reflected in my face over the surroundings. Devin gave me a charmed look.

“Have you ever eaten in a restaurant like this?”

“This is a first for me.” I grinned grateful for the invite.

Without a sound, a thin guy dressed in cobalt blue appeared at our table. “Evening. I’ll be your server. Can I start you off with a cocktail?”

The waiter and Devin both looked to me for my drink order. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to request alcohol without getting carded. Up to that point, I hadn’t been asked to show I.D. in L.A. My thought was that this fancy-schmancy place didn’t care either.

“I’ll have a Vodka martini.” I kept my tone steady and secure to avoid detection of my underage status.

“And you, sir?” The waiter turned to Devin.

“I’ll have your local stout on tap.”

“Very good, I’ll be right back with your drinks.”

“Ya know, it really would’ve been fine to just go to a diner.” I said.

“You deserve it.”

A bright flash of light flooded the window, illuminating that side of my face. Devin and I turned toward the faint horizon. The neon flicker broke through the sky once again, igniting the blackened water for an instant, revealing the millions of twinkling topaz jewels being flushed to the shore.

It was lightening. A deep rumble followed. A storm was rolling inland.

“Wow - that was intense.” Devin whispered.

“Here are your drinks.” The waiter interrupted our amazement.

“Are you ready to order?” the proper-looking guy asked.

Devin waited for me to go first. I hadn’t even looked at the menu in any length. With there being only six entrée choices, I decided quickly.

My attention fell to the shoreline soon after.

“Are you gonna try your drink?” Devin said, as he sipped his ebony colored beer.

I had forgotten about the clear concoction placed before me. The martini glass was accented by two green olives pierced by a plastic blue toothpick. My hands cupped the tiny bowl-shaped glass, moving it carefully to my lips. Brimming at the rim was the pure alcohol elixer.

“Before you sip though, let’s toast.” He flashed an expansive smile.

Holding my drink at eye level I waited at his request.

“To Yari - may all your dreams come true.”

“Dido,” I added.

We kissed the glasses. A crack of lightening disrupted our intimate fixation on each other. A slight hum of illustrious light echoed in response. The muted glow in the interior of the lounge distorted the window, blurring my reflection.

“Do you think that was a sign of things to come?” A lifeless tone droned with pessimism, as I remarked on the eerie coincidence of the lightening flash.

“If it was, I’m sure it was a good sign.” His feeble chuckle didn’t convince me that he believed it.

Was Devin a cynical person like me?

We talked about my music, new song ideas, creative directions, stage performances, and Frank over dinner. Devin was well aware of the tension that Frank and I manifested whenever we were in the same room together. He believed that I let Frank get under my skin too easily. “Ignore him. Frank’s the type of guy who likes to hear himself talk. He’s a pompous ass, and not worth the aggravation.”

The martini felt good going down. When the cocktail was finished I turned talkative. The effect of alcohol was always the same: I’d transform into either a babbling idiot, or become insatiably horny.

“It looks like the rain is gonna hold off." Devin noted after dinner. "Want to go for a walk along the beach?”

I saw only a spattering of cloud cover in the distance.

“Yeah, sure.”

Devin reached for my fingers, folding them into his. We set out for the rear exit then onto the lavish deck.

The earthy notes of patchouli that had become his staple steeped a delicate trail of rich sweetness. The callused tips of his fingers grasped the supple ends of mine.

The night air was heavy with the warmth of an Indian summer. A delicate breeze offered some relief from the humid air brought on by the impending storm.

My boots made it difficult to maintain balance once on the sand. “It’s time for these damn things to come off.” I snapped, removing the feet corsets.

“I’ll do the same.” Devin pulled off his shoes along with his socks, balling and stuffing the dark cotton into the tips of the shiny shoes. “I’m not a big dress shoe guy.”

The sand felt slippery beneath my nylons. We held hands and strolled parallel with the spilling waves. They crashed ceremoniously, one after another, repeating their rhythmic plunge without pause. Close enough for us to feel the spray from the foaming water our feet gradually perforated the pools of liquid ice that pored close to our reach.

“So, tell me more about yourself.” Devin chimed as we drifted along.

The only light that guided our stroll was that of the restaurant. The moon and the stars were snuffed out by the gathering storm.

 “Like what?” I played dumb, keeping my attention on my wet nylons which were no longer white. There was nothing further to tell about me. He knew all that he needed to know.

“I don’t know – anything. Tell me about when you lived in New York.”

Relief sprung within me. Minus the homeless stint and Brad there were some in descript details.

“It’s a city that every musician should live in at some point in their lives.” I felt Devin’s hand switch from crossed fingers to a palm-clasp over mine.

“Why’s that?”

“The people who live there are in a category all their own, much more particular about their music standards. They have no trouble telling you if you suck.” I chuckled. “In other words, if a singer can withstand the crowds of New York City, they can survive anywhere.”

“They’re that tough, huh?”

“Not only are they tough, but they're crazy. I had the pleasure of getting to know some of the bar flies at the club I played. Their issues are so deeply vested that not only are they screwed for life, but so are their kids.”

I hastily scanned the horizon, spotting a cloud in the near distance humming as lightening brewed within.

“Can you give me an example?” his voice was transfixed. The silhouette of Devin’s strong profile made me shudder.

“The owner of this bar where I played in Manhattan was a total sleaze. He was married four times.” I noticed Devin’s growing interest. “The fourth ex-wife came to the bar every week for her child-support that he never paid. She looked like a junky. I knew when she arrived - I could hear the solitary ranting of a pissed off drunk woman. It was hysterical.”

“What would she say?” Devin’s voice wavered with a laugh.

I loved his laugh as much as I loved his voice. When he sang, Devin sounded like Michael Hutchence from INXS, and when he spoke it was like Val Kilmer – sexy and confident.

Wit crippled my mouth and cheeks. “Oh my god, she would start off by screaming his name in conjunction with a choice curse word. One day it would be, “Victor, you fucking deadbeat.” Another, “Where’s that small-dicked lowlife, Victor Fleming?”

We both shared a laugh.

“What did Victor do?” Devin wiped a tear from his eye.

“He was always ready for the wacko ex. Victor trained his bouncer, Big Steve to snag her at the door then drag her skinny ass back to the street. I never understood why she kept trying.”

“The craziest thing I’ve ever seen," Devin chortled at the forgotten memory,"was a homeless guy try to hold-up a hotdog stand with a water gun.”  “The sun drives Californians mad sometimes.”

Our date was playing out perfectly. Dinner was a hit. And we were finishing the night with the quintessential date reflection – walking along a beach.

Devin nudged a lock of his hair, curling it behind his ear. The motion of his long fingers wrapping the blond strand made me envious that it wasn’t my hair that he was caressing. I wanted to feel his hands on me again.

The wind started to take on clout.

“Are you cold?” he asked after catching me tremble.

My gaze trailed to his face. He was much taller than me, standing over six feet. “No, I’m fine. I just got the chills for a second.”

We shared in a silent regard then turned to face our path again.

“I’ve never been out east.” Devin continued into his curiosity of where I hailed. “How is it different than here?” His hand continued to grasp mine – never wavering.

We traveled a quarter of a mile from the restaurant. The beach was becoming increasingly darker away from the lights of Aqua Blue.

“It’s different. The lifestyle is incredibly fast paced and competitive there. The people are moody and introverted. Here, I’ve met nothing but cool locals.” I shot a smile at him.
“We’re pretty chill, for the most part.” He stopped walking and turned to face me.

This unexpected shift of attention drew me in. His awareness was physically directed at me.

The words stammered from my lips. “I, do feel more of a connection to California. I think it’s primarily because my life is rock. Where better to migrate - to have the dream of success realized - than the rock capital of the world."
“You’re green eyes turn the most intense shade when you talk about music.”

His recognition into my obsession with music was enough to prompt me to elaborate further.
“Music is my life. It’s resides within my framework. And it’s not a fundamental love that I have for writing music and singing - it goes deeper than that. My make-up depends on it as a means for survival. This might sound a little cliché, but for me to exist, not only do I need the sustenance of air, food, a roof - I also need everything that embodies music: The salvation that it offers through the meaning of my lyrics saved me. Without it, I would be dead.”

I hesitated from continuing further into the dramatic interpretation of my life-or-death need for music. If I babbled on I might’ve revealed much more than I intended.

My attention focused on him. I recoiled slightly from his hands.

His face was heartfelt – eyes wide with indulgence. “I’ve never heard anyone describe music with such depth of feeling. Now I know why I’m so attracted to you, Yari Simone. Music is our muse in life, our reason for existing. We share in the same love.”

I appreciated the consideration that Devin attempted into my analysis, but I was skeptical that our perception of music was simpatico. Almost certain that I was the only one between us that believed music was their whole existence. But the sincerity on his part to connect with me was not overlooked.

Devin and I both had issues. But my problems were far more complex and disturbing. In all honesty, I didn’t want to imagine that anyone else had endured the horrors I had. I did, however, long for someone to confide my feelings. Devin was so willing to listen, but would he truly understand? He didn’t need to know the imperfections of my existence. No one did – it was just too painful – too unbelievable.

“Music is certainly everything.” I offered unwilling to disagree with his correlation between us.

Lightening-infused clouds crawled in closer, reflecting off of Devin’s deep, maple eyes, turning them a light caramel. He was silently pondering my face. His attention wandered with the motion of his hands, as they streamed the warmth of my arms then pausing on the bare skin of my shoulders.

Devin’s moist lips parted as a subtle staggered inhale drew into his mouth. “You’re all I think of.”

The unexpected sentiment sparked a sense of rigidity over me. I flushed, locking my gaze to his quenching look.

The words that continued from his beautiful mouth were steeped with reverence. “I’ve never met anyone like you, so beautiful, so unique. You’re mine, Yari Simone.” The warmth of his hands caressed my face.

Because Devin’s voice was saturated with romance, the indication that I was his didn't bother me. Suggesting that I belonged to anyone would have sent me over the edge. What was it about Devin that caused my man-hating stance to crumble and fall?

He bent down to kiss me full on the mouth. I plunged forward. The silkiness of his tongue parted my all too eager lips. An intense hunger insinuated my body. I wanted Devin to take me right there on the beach.

His fingers curled under my hairline, snaking through the back of my head. A tingling sensation ignited, propelling my hands to do the same.

Our mouths divided momentarily, only for gasps of air. The affectionate acrobatics of our lips and tongues lasted several minutes. I was disappointment when he pulled away. His eyes were soft. Hesitation shaped his mouth, like he wanted to say something. I watched as his fervent lips moved in closer to mine again. It was then that the rain inconveniently showed. It started light then turned heavy.

“Oh, man. Let’s run for it.” Devin took hold of my hand. We staggered through the deep sand for the shelter of his van.

By the time we got to the dry salvation of its interior, we were both drenched. My hair was flat and sticky from the hairspray, and the suffocating embrace of my leather clothes felt worse when wet. It was as if the fitted material shrunk a size from the moisture.

“Damn that came fast,” Devin said out of breath.

Sitting in silence, mesmerized by the storm, my hands continued to wipe the water off my body.

Devin’s laugh forced me to peer in his direction. “What?”

“I’m sorry, but your hair looks . . .” he paused rethinking his words. “Um, like a wet pancake.” He suppressed laughter behind taught lips, very unconvincingly.

I shook my dripping hair in his direction as payback. He recoiled with a grunt.

“Ugh, some of the hairspray got in my mouth.” He used the back of his sleeve to wipe his tongue. “It tastes like ass.”

I laughed even harder.

After several minutes my laughter dwindled to a goofy grin. Devin focused his attention on the torrential down-pouring beating against the windows.

“What do you want to do now?” he asked, eyes intent on the streams forming over the windshield.

Not sure what to say, my lips twitched in contemplation. But a suggestion rolled off of my tongue in a speedy tirade. “I have a cheap bottle of rum in the fridge of my motel room. Are you up for a rum-and-coke, and a movie on a TV with horrible reception?”

One part of me wanted him to say yes. The thought of him lounging on my bed made my head swarm with the possibility of sex. The prudish side of me, what little of it there was, thought it not a good idea. Devin was my lead guitarist and if for some reason things went sour, what then? Sitting in his van, wet, horny, I really didn’t give a shit. Forget reasoning, my hormones were controlling this outcome.

Devin’s face edged taught, smirking mischievously, “I’m game.”