Chapter 12

The Clifton was a two-leveled motel that looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1970’s. It was a white building with turquoise doors and neon-yellow painted trim. The office to this palace looked like a Swiss Chalet with pink painted siding.

I was worried it was gonna be a prostitute’s haven. It certainly wasn’t the Hotel Andaz - if only. Whether now, or later, I was hell bent to roar from a balcony of that infamous Riot House “I am a Golden God.”

When we walked into the surprisingly small but respectable lobby, it immediately hit me how the desk clerk might interpret me and Frank’s need for a room. I quickly conjured an innocent father/daughter façade by standing a safe distance from him, and putting on a temperamental teenaged puss.

A middle-aged man - who looked like he was having a midlife crisis with his long hair, tanned skin, booty-hugger jeans, and snug gym tank, showing off his saggy muscles - looked up as we entered the office.

“Hey guys - what can I do you for?” he asked with no judgment in his voice.

Frank requested two single bedrooms. I wasn’t expecting him to get a room for each of us. I was relieved however.

The desk clerk kept eyeing me whenever Frank was distracted with paying or signing a paper. He snuck a wink at me, making me feel uncomfortable. I diverted my gaze from his.

“You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, if you don’t mind me saying.” The midlife-crisis guy said this to me without any concern that Frank might be my father and jump the counter to kick his ass.

I looked at the guy thinking he was talking to someone else. But then he turned to Frank and said, “No disrespect, but I’ve gotta pay someone a compliment when they deserve it. That’s how I was raised.” He looked back at me admiringly.

Frank chuckled to himself. “Don’t tell me. Tell her.”

I wasn’t sure how to take this. So I said nothing.

We finished registering and headed to our rooms. Mine was small with a kitchenette, bathroom and full-sized bed. It had a horrible orange shag rug, lime green cabinets, and a retro yellow, woven-wool coverlet on the bed. I felt like I was gonna to be sick looking over the hideous décor. My puke would only get lost in the already vomit inspired colors.

Frank and I agreed to meet after we gathered our bearings.

I sat on the ugly bed cover, and zoned out. It was the moment of truth for my life. What was gonna happen next? Was I grasping air with this dream of stardom, pulling at straws?

Who the fuck knows?

I gave up on that thought for the moment.

I felt like I was going insane with this constant uncertainty. Questioning my sanity had become commonplace lately because of my unorthodox life. My childhood was shit complimented with a dash of suck, turning worse when I ran away to New York City and Brad O.D. Maybe I was cursed – having a pestilent alter ego, perhaps?

I lay back on the bed. My eyes drifted closed, falling into a light sleep. It was something I didn’t realize my body needed.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, deep sleep wanted to take over. I resisted. It was meant to be a nap and nothing more.

Voices were mumbling in my thoughts . . . indecipherable, jumbled. Was there someone in my room? My lids wouldn’t open.

My senses were maxed. I heeded intently. Still the sounds were muffled, like being submerged under water. I was dreaming.

I could feel myself slipping back to a waking state. But I forced my mind back in, needing to know what was being said.

Listen closer.

The voices split into two. I could almost make out the words. “Yari,” It was faint female voice, sounding sort of familiar. “No hope for the . . .” The last half faded into nothing.

“What?” I asked, my voice ensnaring a desperate need for this testimony. “I couldn’t hear you.”

Slight with a strained muted pitch - as if she were yelling it from a distance - I could barely make out a syllable. I was certain just then what the unknown person was shouting. “There is no hope for the wicked.”

“Shut up,” another female voice grated, guttural, forcing the other voice away.

My eyes opened. I stared at the ceiling, expressionless.

What just happened?

Having never had a dream where I heard only a voice and nothing more, no images - only darkness - feeling awake, alert, made the experience even more bizarre, almost as if someone were actually whispering into my ear. I was certain that I was not conscious then.

Sitting up, I tried to shake it off.

There was a light knock on my motel door.

It was Frank. “You ready to get a six-string?” he asked.

“I am.”

I grabbed my room key and we headed out.

Frank asked me if I wanted to drive. Any opportunity I had to get behind the wheel of that baby I jumped at the chance. The black sports-car adorned gold ground-effects and removable T-tops. Its square, double-set front lights, mag tires and fin resembled that of a corvette. Even though Frank was superficial, he wasn’t the type to relish over his things once he bought them. It was like the rush of getting the toys was over once he brought them home.

“The first thing I’m gonna buy for myself if I ever make it big is a brand new Corvette . . . red with a convertible top.” I said, starting the engine.

A baritone chuckle came from his direction.

“What would you buy?” I asked, certain that he was already spending his make-believe money.

“Take a left out of the parking lot,” he said, pointing in the direction of a McDonald’s, “a real studio, one that isn’t in my basement.”

“I figured as much.” I replied with a quick cavalier glance in his direction.

“Take the next right.”

The traffic was increasing – bumper to bumper at times. I stopped at a set of lights, and turned my attention to my left. A neon-blue mustang pulled alongside me with a really cute guy in the driver’s seat. He turned to me and smiled. I returned the favor.

“The light’s green, you flirt.” Frank broke in. “Take this right.” He chuckled.

The blue mustang-guy tooted his horn as I turned. The guys in California were awfully friendly. This is going to be an interesting town.

After another light, two right turns, and dodging some suicidal drivers, I pulled in front of a guitar shop called, Blues, Folk & Rock ‘n Roll Guitars.

When we entered the small retail store an older man emerged from the back. He looked like a retired rocker with his long, salt and pepper ponytail; a short white beard with an earring in his left ear. A fitted vest hung over his stone-washed jeans. The smell of tobacco lingered near when he appeared, like he just finished an unfiltered cigarette.

“How ya doin’ folks?” he said, revealing blackened, gapped teeth.

“Good.” Frank said distracted, looking around at the eclectic varieties jammed into the limited space. “We’re in need of a six-string.”

Guitars were layered on shelves from ceiling to floor. I spotted a beautiful wooden acoustic on the top shelf behind the register. I could see the price tag from where I stood - it was a hundred and ten bucks. Frank and I hadn’t discussed pricing, but I was certain it wouldn’t be in that range. He did mention “used.”

“Who’s the guitar for?” The sales clerk asked.

“Me.” I piped up.

“Are you a student? I have some nice thirty-six inch student models that . . .”

“I’m not a student.” I interrupted him. It was true I hadn’t been playing long, but I picked it up fast and wasn’t too shabby at it. “I’m looking for a used acoustic that still has some life left.” I turned to Frank for confirmation of my request.

Frank nodded, “Something less than fifty dollars.”

“Ah, you’re both in luck. I just bought a Gibson today from a guy who needed money for rent.” He smirked, and walked behind the counter where the register was. “It’s right here.” He pulled out a tattered, wooden acoustic that looked like it had seen better days.

“I just finished tuning it only an hour ago. Its thirty-eight inches, steel strings, and a solid top with laminate. The appearance isn’t the greatest, but I assure you it still purrs like a kitten. Try it out.” He handed me the pale wooded instrument.

I grabbed it by the neck then rotated the guitar to the right-handed position. Being a lefty I never did take to playing south paw. Not under any other circumstance did I do the left-hand switch though.

I freestyled a simple tune. The guitar handled okay. It seemed in decent shape.

“What kind of music do you play?” The sales guy asked me.

Frank looked at the guitar with a scrutinizing eye.

“Rock, mostly.” I said.

“So you’ll need some picks too then?” The sales guy added.

I nodded yes.

I started strumming a Beatles tune. Both Frank and the old guy looked on with interest. My fretting hand curled over the strings as the other played chords to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I crooned, “I look at the world and I notice its turning.”

“That’s pretty good.”

I looked up at the keen face of the sales guy. Not realizing he was gawking at me.

“Oh, uh, thanks.”

“Don’t be modest,” Frank interjected. “That was damn good.”

“So, have we got a match?” The intrigued old rocker asked smiling at both Frank and I.

I looked up at Frank. “How much?” he asked.

The sales guy was quiet, looking me and the guitar over, then back at Frank. “I’ll give it to you for forty- five, but you’ve got to come back and visit me when you’re famous,” he said with a sheepish grin.

A coy smile flushed my face. Frank accepted the price.

“My name’s Henry, by the way. I’m the owner of this joint. Are you new in town?” He started back to the register to ring us up.

“Yeah, we just moved here from the east coast.” I offered.

“Here to break into the music biz, are we?”

I turned skeptical, unsure if he was mocking me.

“I’m here to show L.A. what they’ve been missing.” I corrected him.

I tried not to sound condescending, but I wanted my confidence to be clear.

Henry laughed and raised his eyebrows. He was taken back by my indignation, but appeared impressed by the cockiness.

“Well, you certainly have more self-confidence than the others that come in here.”

“For good reason,” Frank added, tilting his head toward me, flashing a smug grin.

“What style of rock do you sing?” Henry asked while cashing us out.


He thought for a moment, brow furrowed. “Ok, I think I’ve heard of it. It hasn’t quite hit California yet, but this state is open to anything lately - the 80’s is the era of change.”

Henry gave Frank the receipt then strolled back to the front of the counter. “Do you have a manager?”

I placed the guitar strap over my shoulder, eager to get back into playing.

“He’s my manager.” I pointed beside me. Frank didn’t look up as he put his wallet away in the back pocket of his jeans.

“It’s difficult to get anyone to notice you without a manager.”

I hoped I had the right guy to make them notice.

Frank and I opted for a walk around the block to talk more about the days to come. We left the car in front of the guitar shop.

I felt like a million bucks wandering L.A. with a guitar strapped to my back. It was cliché, but undeniably prophetic.

Los Angeles was quickly becoming my muse. Ideas for songs were pulsating through me with a rampant force I couldn’t contain, like something was in the air, juicing my creative spontaneity.

Adjusting the strap, I could see that Frank was anxious about something. The furrowed brow and tense gaze that he typically festooned looked strained. I waited for him to get it off his chest. Frank was one for speaking his thoughts.

“It’s real important that you keep your head about you.” Frank started. “Don’t get caught up in the L. A. party scene.”

Not sure where he was going with this lurking rhetoric, I waited for him to continue. Frank loved to carry on with monotonous dialogue, so there was no doubt there was more to come.

“I know what it’s like to be taken in by this town.” His gaze remained forward.” I lived here for six years back in the 60’s. I arrived in 1966. I was eighteen. Two of my buddies and me had it in our heads that we were gonna move to L.A. after high school, to become big-time record producers. We had stars in our eyes. We used every nickel we had, got a so-so apartment off of Sunset, and rented space for the studio. But eventually the party scene caught up with us. One buddy took to the bottle. The other was big into cocaine. And me . . .” he hesitated, shooting a twitchy glance at me. “I was addicted to women.”

I said nothing.

“I . . .” he turned forward, “went to the popular bars and clubs almost every night. You could say that’s where most of my money went before I turned up broke. So, I just wanted to warn you that it’s easy to get caught in the lifestyle – the booze, drugs . . . sex.” He forced a laugh. “Shit, it’s not up to me to tell you that you can’t have fun, just don’t forget that our main reason for being here is to work.”

“Music is more important to me than partying and guys.”

Frank nodded then diverted the subject. “We should discuss this indie-rock style that you’ve clung to. I know it’s up-and-coming in Massachusetts and Illinois, and a few other places. But it’s not a very common type of rock. We might have to bend a little until we achieve a position where we can be more particular.”

“What are you saying?” Without restraint my face was inflamed with offence. “This music is what I know. It’s me. I can’t play or sing anything else.”

“Don’t be so defensive, kid. Mainstream rock isn’t so terrible.” He rolled his eyes at me.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to face him. “First off, my name isn’t kid, and second, I didn’t come to California to be forced into being something I’m not. When the hell were you gonna tell me that I was just your pawn? You knew who I was and what I wanted before we came here. If you don’t like my music then you shouldn’t have bothered.”

“Calm down,” he said with a patronizing air. “I didn’t say that you had to change. All I meant was your music might have to be slightly more conventional for now.”

“What’s the point? What if that’s what gets me noticed? I want to get a record deal because they like my style.” My blood was boiling. And I wasn’t afraid to show it.

“Look, I know you want to create something new, and make a name for yourself, but most of the time originality counts for nothing. If you keep with this dark persona, it could take a decade to make a name for yourself. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money.” Frank was turning red in the face. I could see he was about to blow. And I didn’t give a shit.

“I’m not a cookie-cutter pop singer, and I don’t sing glam rock. I came to L.A. to be different. Isn’t that what this place is known for – giving the opportunity to be yourself? I’m not going to be your next Lita Ford. I played along with that crap in New York. My style is alternative rock.”

I scowled at him.

Frank went quiet. I could tell he was trying to calm himself before he said anything he’d regret. He had to stop treating me like a fucking child when it came to my music.

Finally he spoke. “You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that? I didn’t realize it until now - you’re moody and mouthy.” He hesitated, catching his breath. “Make sure you save some of that for the arrogant record execs when they try and turn us away.”

“Music is the only thing I’ve got.” I reiterated, turning my attention to the lanky hippy sitting on the bench we were passing.

“Once we pick the band we’ll compromise on a sound, alright?” he negotiated, offering a barmy look. “Let’s try and get along in the meantime. Remember that you’re not the only one that wants to make a name for themselves.”

“Yup,” I was curt.

What I wanted to tell him was that it really came down to only me. I was the forerunner, not him. It was going to be my face that people saw, even if it was a no-name bar. They didn’t care about my manager. I’ll be scrutinized and judged by the audience, not him.

Adamant about making certain that supremacy would not arise in our business arrangement I made certain to keep reminding Frank of my relevancy. His objectives seemed to be trying to take rank.

Feeling the lack of control over the decision making was getting under my skin. Frank was the money, but wasn’t a little credit due to me - a little respect? I was the talent. Not his leverage. It was my music that would make or break us. Insightful enough to offer input into this vision, it was time that he opened up to my ideas.

Frank and I strolled along the sidewalk quietly lost in our private dialogue – me and my habitual distrust, and him, most likely lost in regret. I could almost hear the animosity brewing in his mind, rethinking what he got himself into.

“There’s a good Mexican place around the corner,” his voice was impartial. “Are you hungry?”

I lost my appetite. But I knew I had to ditch the resentment and be cordial.

“Yeah . . . sure.”

Later that night, Frank and I met up at the motel swimming pool in the courtyard. He insisted on hearing one of my new songs. I was tired. But when it came to my music there was always energy enough for singing.

It was dusk and the stars were peeking through the fading sky. There was a small bar in the back. A young guy sporting a Dodgers cap sat behind the tall bar platform. He was reading the newspaper.

We sat at an umbrella table. I adorned my six-string. Frank walked to the barkeep to order us a couple of beers. I tuned to my guitar and rehearsed the words to the song that I wrote on the road. I called it “Dreamland.” Frank was on his way back to me.

“In death roses smell sweeter,

This transition haunts my dreams.

I yearn for this land where the clouds aren’t real,

And candy falls into the streams.

A Dreamland in a world of eternal anodyne,

Purple, red, and blue, the funnel of fearlessness

I wish for my world to crash into the sun,

The pain and the tears - the heartache I won’t miss.

My dreamland is the giver of peace.

The road to salvation isn’t easy,

I run to what comforts me most.

Can I reach the border in time to be saved?

I suffer, I yearn,

The father, the son, and the Holy Ghost

The addiction is all that I see,

Creating a dreamland that I know will never be. . .”

I finished the song with a suspended chord on the guitar. Keeping my eyes on the strings, I didn’t encourage a response from Frank.

He sighed in spite of me.

Frank’s disapproval was disrupted by an enthusiastic clap from the bartender.

“What?” I asked Frank with a cold snap.

“You carried the tune perfectly. But this one . . . I feel is too dark.” Frank shifted his weight, readying himself for my chastisement.

My words were flanked with anger. “All my songs are dark.”

I never did take criticism very well. He remained calm even with my petulance.

“That’s the thing – all you’re songs are dark. Why not write a love song about a happy experience. The band can help charge it.” Frank leaned against his hand, rubbing his temple.

“First off, the song writer is ninety percent of a song’s vision. The band will be inspired to play according to my interpretation.” It irritated the hell out of me that Frank didn’t appreciate the methodology of song making. “Writing songs is a way for me to express myself. And for you to define my song as being too dark is like saying everything that happened in my life I need to get over.”

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I continued with some self-control. “Second, all of my songs come into the world through acoustic, making them appear darker. But that’s how I give birth to them. When the band is introduced, they’ll help to bring the song to life, but it doesn’t breathe meaning into it.”

Frank couldn’t hold back any longer. “Goddamn it, why do you have to be so friggin’ difficult - so argumentative?”

“Why? Because I don’t want you to tear apart my music, and oh, my look? I’m not a puppet that you can control. Is it too much to ask that you give me a little creative space? I don’t want fame so bad that I have to change who I am. I’m not a fucking one-hit-wonder deal here.” My guitar was on the table at that point. I was leaning across it.

Frank’s attitude turned tetchy. “Who do you think you’re gonna be - the next Janis Joplin?”

“I can see the intelligent part of the night started.” I shifted to leave.

“You know how many new artists want to be the next big thing,” he tried to have the last word; “only to wind-up back at the cesspool of a town where they grew up, serving burgers and fries for a living because they wouldn’t conform? You need to take my fucking advice.”

I stood up, ending the heated debate. “I had no idea that you had the exclusive rights to the title of asshole!” It seemed a moot point to continue this argument – my position wasn’t going to change.

A muffled snort came from behind me. The bartender was enjoying the show.

Chapter 13

“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.

He didn’t bother to come see me before leaving early the next morning for appointments.

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.


How I hated the incompetent treatment.

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.

“Great, we’re doomed.” I groaned.

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.

It was nine-thirty in the morning. I dragged my sluggish legs to the bathroom. A quick glance at my disheveled appearance in the mirror was enough to cause me to gag with disgust. I moved my ass quicker into the shower to wash off the scuz of a deliberate hang over. Having forgotten that I stashed a bottle of peppermint schnapps in my bag, I guzzled every drop of that liter the night before.

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.

Slowly pulling to a standing position, with much needed help from the bathroom vanity, I attempted to undress. My hands were shaking from dehydration. Grabbing a plastic cup by the sink, I leaned over the drain pressing my weight against the ridge, brushed my teeth, and downed four servings of nasty tap water.

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 couldn’t resist allowing myself an addled smile over her amusing appearance. Someone save me from Valley Girl Sanctuary.

“I sense a beauty yearning to break free,” she beamed. With one hand on chin, and the other on hip, she looked at me with a kind of deliberating dissection.

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?”

Jill whipped into a kind of childish skip, heading to the rear of the shop. “The accessories are back here.”

At the end of this wall of shoes were belts, scarves, and handbags. Before I gave any attention to the belts, the boot selection called to me - all leather, in various lengths from ankle to knee. I took hold of a pair of black leather ankle-boots with pointed toe and heel. Looking inside one of them to see if they were my size, I was psyched that I had a winner.

“I want to try these on too.”

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 think a fitted hanging belt would be the perfect finishing touch to this dynamite look. Come over here,” she called from a stainless-steel wall-rack with rows of hooks jammed of belts.

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.”

The belt that I pulled from the hanger was black leather with a row of silver studs. My goal wasn’t Easy Rider. I put it back on the hook.

“I’ve been there – well, the islands. Nantucket is my favorite of the two. My college boyfriend was rich, and his parents lived there during the summer. If he wasn’t such a manipulative asshole, we probably would’ve married.” Jill’s eyebrows arched with hostility.

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.

“Born and raised,” she said with a proud arc of the brow. “My parents worked at Paramount Studios until they retired. They were screen writers. It was fun growing up. I met all kinds of actors. My favorite was when I met Shirley MacLaine. Now that’s a woman with great style. I was thirteen. It was at a premier party for Two Mules for Sister Sara. She took one look at my froey mane and said, “Your hair makes a statement, kid.” Jill mimicked the actresses’ strong, sassy voice. “Here – go and try these clothes on.” She handed me the pants, and a belt she picked out. “Let’s see if we’ve discovered your inner femme fatale.”

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.

I thought about that for a second, not having visited a club or bar yet on The Strip or SMB, I wasn’t sure if this was a fair assessment or not. But, considering the glam bands that were trademark to the area, and the floozies that chased their tail, there was definitely reason to assume Jill wasn’t exaggerating.

“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.

“One of my many attempts at a career was cosmetology,” she offered without any regard to her dignity. “It was an eighteen month program, but three quarters of the way through I had the itch to travel to Hawaii to learn how to belly dance. So I quit the cosmo course. I wound-up living on the island for two years.”

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.”

“What I’m thinking is just straightening my hair smooth.” I offered a hazy smirk to her elaboration. “At the same time I’d like volume, if that’s even possible.” My moot fingers combed through the straggles that hung over my shoulder.

“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.

What was more improbable was that Marty would even contact the police to let them know I pulled The Outsiders disappearing act. Still, there was that minute possibility.

And I didn’t want to be found.

“I’d like the job. Can you pay me under the table though?”

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?”

Chapter 14

After leaving Jill’s boutique I felt an optimistic spring in my step. Things were starting to look up. Granted, I hadn’t been offered any gigs, but I had my stage look - it was a slavish start, but productive. I relinquished my stereotypes and bought two pairs of leather pants, along with the blouses, a pair of boots, and a couple of sheer scarves. The belts I couldn’t bring myself to buy – they were too partial to heavy metal. I was going against my grain as it was with this resolve of provocative attire. But with Frank forcing the issue down my throat, and Jill somehow convincing me that it was my look, I just went with it. My assets were covered with little imagination left to arouse. This was L.A. - it was time to get real.

In the end I developed a look that was biker-babe meets earth-child.

Telling Jill that I could start at her shop that coming Friday gave me an underpinning to look forward to - as futile as it was. I was almost certain working there would be boring. But Jill seemed cool.

Having some money left from the clothes allowance, I decided to treat myself with a book or some new music.

The mild day felt cleansing. Most of my tension from the night before had vanquished. Turning onto West Santa Monica Boulevard I strolled casually, taking in the increased traffic, and the seemingly endless stretch of road. A dull ache still lingered in the back of my head, reminding me of the foolish attempt at drowning my fury with liquor.

The road had definite California appeal with everything bleached, and palm trees framing the concrete. Passing various amenities, a car dealership, drug store, several small strip malls, luck would have it that a bookstore/café mingled within this provincial norm. The tiny spot had a college vibe with students draping the place: cuddled into café booths; engrossed in recent book purchases, and laughing amongst themselves. My prospects were in the back with the books.

Once in non-fiction I poked through the new releases. One in particular caught my eye. The cover was deep green, centered by a blurred photo of a darkened forest. Captioned below was the title “Enchanted.” The ominous look appealed to me - the title very reminiscent of a song I wrote. Sitting on the floor I made for the synopsis.

“That’s a good book,” a guy’s voice chimed from above.

Craning upward, the source of the interlude was leaning over my shoulder – tall, cargos and an Oxford. He had black untamed hair, spiking to the right, and emerald green eyes.

He was smiling upon me.

My tone was casual. “Is it?”

He nodded, continuing with a tilted grin.

“So you recommend that I buy it, then?” Turning the novel over so that the cover faced up, my hand caressed the smooth surface.

He knelt closer to me.

“I do.” The lopsided smirk was interesting. “Do you know what it’s about?”

In total disbelief that this near perfect guy had even the slightest bit of interest in me, made me suspicious. I casually leaned away from him.

“I was just about to read the back, so no.”

His face lit. “It’s about life through the eyes of a thirteen year-old prodigy – very morose, but eye-opening.”

My nose caught the sweet scent of his wafting cologne. I recognized it - Polo.

“Intriguing – I’m sold.” I stood to thank him.

He rose with me. We faced each other - me preoccupied, him beguiled.

“So, do you work here, or something?” Feeling compelled to ask the obvious, he stood before me, unwavering.

“No, this is just my favorite section.” A coy shimmer glided over his face. “My name’s Corey.”

I looked around suspicious of friends he might’ve had leering behind bookshelves, watching their cruel bet play out: to see if I was naive enough to actually believe that he was into me. But I saw no one.

“Yari,” my tone was mildly standoffish.

I wondered the time it would take for him to realize I was not the prima-donna type that he was presupposed to be attracted to.

He noted my hesitation. “Do you go to school around here?” Continued to be polite, seemingly determined to prove me wrong about my misgivings.

“Uh, no,” I said with a note of oncoming irritation. “Thanks for the tip.” Turning to leave, the yuppie was persistent, hell-bent in keeping me.

“I go to Lee Strasberg.”

Theatre collage? I knew of the school. He didn’t come off as the artsy type, with his bland wardrobe.

I offered my attention.

“Really?” my tone was asserting rather than inquiring. “What’re you studying?” The book was twirling in my fingers casually as it hung before me.

“Screen writing and, directing.” Corey’s posture was relaxed as I lingered by.

My thoughts returned to suspicion, naturally, with this insight into his outlook: Great - he wants to use me as a guinea pig for a working drama - The Street Girl Named Desire. The most that Blanche DuBois and I had in common was that we were both delusional. Scarlett O’Hara, I would never try to be. My virtues were far from being a gentile Southern belle. My personality traits comprised of irrational neurosis, cynicism, inability to trust, and fanciful dreaming. Qualities that would most definitely curl his manicured toes.

“Cool,” I offered in response to his major.

He shifted his weight nervously. Corey’s eyes turned away from me as mine bore into his thoughts, trying to assess him.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” he asked.

Maybe I was reading way too deep into his intentions. He was good looking. As if that has any relevance. I considered putting my trust issues aside for the moment. Besides, I didn’t have much else to do that afternoon.

“Sure, why not.”

Paying for the book while Corey waited at a table in the café, I speculated even further into why he would be interested in me. Clearly I wasn’t his type. And he, mine for that matter. California had shown me some uncustomary social peculiarities, maybe this was another.

My smiling eyes met his as I sat across from him at the small stone table.

“You’re name is very unique. What nationality are you?” he started.

“I’m an eclectic mix of international diversity.” I chuckled. “My mother was half Brazilian, hence the name. And the rest of the melting pot is Irish, Italian, German, and everything else you can imagine.”

Gazing over his clothes again, I noticed they weren’t perfectly pressed like I’d expect of a preppy. They were casually wrinkled like he’d worn them a previous day, but then decided it was clean enough to wear for another.

He lifted both his arms to rest on the table. A Rolex watch clinked against the hard surface. He was definitely out of my league.

“How about you?” guessing that he was probably English by his proper disposition, I waited to be proved correct.

His beautiful smile never faltered, “Same as you, a little bit of this – a little bit of that, but mostly French.”

So, I was close.

A bubbly waitress looking like a local college student herself came by to take our order. She seemed to be the more likely choice to be sitting in my chair with her perfect beauty and trendy look. Her hair was golden-blonde, pulled back into a banana clip with bologna curls streaming her back. She had large blue eyes outlined with matching blue eye-shadow and mascara. Her petite frame was fitted with a short tennis skirt, poking underneath a café smock.

She made me sick.

If she wasn’t so damn friendly and nonjudgmental of me and Corey’s unusual pairing, I would’ve given her nothing but attitude. I waited for Corey to check out her legs, or become mesmerized by her pretty face, but he focused his attention exclusively on me. A gentle smile played about his mouth.

Expecting him to order a fancy coffee decked out with gourmet ingredients, Corey surprised me again, and requested a regular coffee with cream and sugar, exactly how I took java. This guy was an anomaly.

The beauty queen looked to me for my order.

“I’ll have the same.”

Corey’s eyes never left my face. His smile thickened when hearing my request.

“So - do you want to write the next Laurence of Arabia?” It wasn’t original, but I didn’t know what else to say.

He laughed out-loud. The boyish pitch was adorable. Corey had a smooth voice that was eloquent and attractive.

“No, I like to write more unconventional scripts. Independent films are what I favor. I’d like to direct them one day, too.”

My interest peaked. I stared at him with attention, like he was someone altogether different. He noticed.

“Are you a fan of independent films?” The green in his gems was almost aqua in hue – bright and captivating – they seemed to sparkle more intensely with this question. Ironically enough, they were almost identical to my eye shade.

The extent of my independent film history was embarrassing - B-horror movies. I used to watch them with Brad. He was a huge fan of the tacky genre. Eventually I got used to their poor quality, almost liking the back-alley editing and unnatural dialogue. I think I took to the movies because I enjoyed how excited Brad would get when watching them. His favorites were Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead.

“I’m not really familiar with that style of film.” I lied, too embarrassed to admit my involvement. Telling him that all I knew of indie films were shitty horrors might either offend him, or make him lose respect for me.

His tone was enthusiastic. “My goal is to reinvent the way independent films are perceived. They’re not respected enough, or given enough credit.”

My mouth dropped. I hoped that he didn’t misinterpret my reaction as indifference. On the contrary - Corey’s visionary words hit a chord; they were right on cue with my own passion for independent music. I knew then that I was completely wrong about this guy, having unfairly labeled him from the word go. He was a starving artist in love with his work, desperate to change industry standards like me. Incredibly, this was all trapped within that rich kid exterior.

“I know it’s an acquired taste,” he misinterpreted my silence, as I feared.

“Oh, no - I’m interested. Please, tell me more.” I leaned over the table to show my intrigue.

A husky laugh broke through his keen grin. He colored. “Indie films aren’t a new concept - they’re just low budget productions with limited advertising. But the tight funds opens up creative challenges, giving more control to the director to focus on the value of the story and character development, rather than investing money in big-name actors and exotic locations. The style transcends from the days of amateur filming.”

Able to relate to Corey on this point with my music was so refreshing. Finally someone shared in my angle. I didn’t want big record companies signing me only to turn me into whatever the hell they sought. My songs and appearance were too significant. I would fight tooth and nail if I had to in order to maintain the artistic integrity of who I was. And having that determination and desire to be a respected musician, was what it was all about. I had a feeling Corey would agree.

He paused, looking at me curiously, seemingly waiting for a response to his interpretation. I was awed by him, not realizing the lull. Corey blew me away with the unexpected similarity in our goals. I got lost in the realization that there was actually someone out there in the world – like me.

Dazedly, I sputtered into the conversation. “I can totally relate to you.” Our green eyes locked. “I’m a singer, and I write music that isn’t mainstream, more independent - not yet fully recognized. I want to introduce to the industry a more exciting, intelligent, completely unconventional style of music.”

I watched the excitement in his face marvel.

“I’m originally from Massachusetts, actually.” I felt compelled to make note. Not sure why I was opening up to this unaccustomed guy, he was so far from who I’d come clean to. “I moved to Los Angeles recently with my manager to break into the business. I can relate to the concept of separating from the norm.”

He laughed in agreement. “You have no idea how many people at my school don’t get me. They want to hold on to the old, the traditional.” Corey paused to shake his head in disbelief. “So you write your own stuff? What inspires you?”

His eager interest into me was inebriating. I loved it. “My life is my muse, I guess you could say. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best childhood, so the songs are sort of dark-ish.” I hoped that my indistinct classification of my writing wasn’t a deflection.

The curiosity that perked the corners of his mouth told me different.

“Dark how – like Metallica dark, or The Dead Kennedy’s dark?”

I chuckled over his estimates – neither being remotely close to what I was aiming for. “Uh, probably more like Sinead O’Connor dark.”

Insight flooded his face. He offered a baleful smile. “So you’re an angry singer.”

My gaze dropped this precise assessment.

The more I chatted with Corey, the more he frightened me with his ostensible burrowing into my soul. How could this stranger read me so well? I hated it. Unintentionally I encouraged it though, by not bringing halt to this Q&A session.

I guess I was green when it came to the psychology of the real world. My exposure to people was limited to what I met in New York, and they were all insane. Was California harboring a more realistic paradigm of personalities that I needed to explore? I felt so stupid – so ignorant to think that I could have a comparable conversation with a college student. What did I know about life besides nothing?

I pulled my eyes back to meet his emerald gaze, “Something like that.” I felt myself pulling away from him. My voice was distant, crushed by Corey unearthing my scathing flaws. Maybe I shouldn’t have given-up so much of myself.

He sensed my apprehension. “I’d like to hear you sing? Do you have any shows lined up?”

Ok, that was enough.

Corey was amiable, clean cut. The beauty of his pristine skin, black hair, willing eyes, dark lashes, and bright smile dampened my mood. He was clearly too good for me. My kind of mess would only butcher his perfect existence. I made that mistake with the rich violinist.

I couldn’t keep with this charade. Looking down at my watch I then glanced up at him distracted, like it was time for me to go.

“Do you have to leave?” he asked, making the connection.

“I do, actually.”

Surprised by the quick change in conversation, Corey grabbed the bill that was left by the waitress. I reached in my bag for some cash. He quickly stopped me.

“I’ve got this,” he said with a soft smile.

“No, here.” I handed him a five.

Looking at the cash gratefully, Corey refused with a slender smile.

We left the café together. He held the door as I exited.

“Are you walking?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was actually trying to get to know the area.”

“I can give you a ride. My car’s over there.” He turned slightly and pointed at a black Porsche across the street.

It amazed me at how unaware Corey seemed to be of the luxuries he possessed, acting like they were just things. Only, they cost more than my father made in a year.

The exotic car was the cherry on the cake - it deflected me even further from him. Corey was from a different realm than me.

Keeping my tone sincere I smiled favorably. “No, but thanks – I think I’m gonna see if I can find my way back to the motel. It’ll be a good memory exercise for me.” I chuckled, noticing the subtle disappointment around his eyes grow.

“Where are you staying?”

I tried to stop myself but it blurted out before I gave it any real thought. “The Clifton Motel - it’s where starving musicians go to die.” I laughed ineptly.

Kicking myself for telling him where I was living, but the words just slipped out. Not only was it almost certainly a dump compared to where he lived, which was probably a mansion in Brentwood or Beverly Hills, but I didn’t want him to visit me, if for some unlikely reason he felt compelled to do so.

The most seductive, slanted grin broke his refined face. I hated to do this.

“It was really nice to meet you. I hope that everything works out for you with the movie biz.”

A defeated air washed over him. “You, too, Yari - hope to see you around.”

My polite smile didn’t fade until I turned away from him. I felt horrible. He was such a nice guy, and I let him slip away. We had things in common. But Corey could never understand what I’d been through before we met. His precious life would on no account be able to grasp the dark complexity of all that I was. Him smiling and making the connection that I was an angry singer, like it was something sexy, was disturbing. If he only knew that it wasn’t even remotely attractive. Nothing about my past was close to being sexy.

I hated the double standards that I forced upon myself. Why couldn’t I, someone who deserved to be happy and have a beautiful guy that came from money, call me his girlfriend? Was I that insecure?

It was so unfair that I did that to myself. But it was a sad fact - I deliberately punished myself because of my fucked-up parents - because of what they did to me. I was too good for the street urchins and the bar flies at Cobra, but not good enough for the privileged status that I had always wished I was born from.

Yet, guys with money appeared to continue to taunt me. Eric and Tim were no different. I let them use me for the rebel yell that I’m certain I was only meant for.

I accepted the truth. I was white trash down to the genetic strands.

I finished that day having dinner with Frank. We ate at the diner next to the motel. He seemed to have forgotten about our fight. I didn’t see the point of holding a grudge for ego sake. The good mood that he projected was enough for me to leave well enough alone. For me though, after leaving Corey, a subtle, dismal cloud fluttered over me. I was lacking the energy to push asshole buttons.

Frank talked about the ad that he placed in the personals, requesting that only indie or alternative types come forward. Surprised that he didn’t go against my wishes and seek out hard rock musicians, I could almost feel the damper lifting.

He went on to tell me about one of his old West Coast friends offering up his basement for me and the future band to hold our jam sessions.

I clued him in on the clothes I bought - he didn’t offer much but a nod. He seemed more pleased with my part-time job. There appeared a sense of argument evasion on his end too. “Smooth on the under-the-table angle,” he said, then plunged back into his meatloaf.

The rest of the dinner was quiet. I was relieved that the night ended with peace between us.

Chapter 15

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.

“I’m game.”

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 awesome.”

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.