“Whoa!” Robert shouted, waking me up. “You got soda all over the tray!”
“Monica,” Debbie said, slipping her pen onto the top of the clipboard, “come sit with me.”
She pulled me over to an empty table by the kitchen door. We tried to keep it clear until the bar got too packed. I pressed my legs together when I sat even though my skirt was long enough. I felt like she could see my arousal.
Debbie placed her clipboard in front of her and leaned forward. “What’s happening? You took the wrong order to Frazier Upton; you stepped on Jennifer Roberg’s foot. That’s not how we do service here.”
“Why did you do that, Debbie? Why did you set me up to meet Jonathan upstairs?”
“I saw you looking at him the other night. I thought it would be a nice surprise.”
“If you could avoid doing that again, that would be great.”
“Of course. I’m sorry, I thought I was doing you a favor.”
“You were. It’s just…” I looked at my hands in my lap. “He’s… I don’t know.” I felt suddenly embarrassed talking about a man’s hold over me with my manager. I should have been mad at her, but in the world I lived in, she had done me a kindness, and it wasn’t like he’d raped me. I’d loved it. I hated it ending when it did. “I just don’t need to be with anyone right now. Or ever. I had this boyfriend, Kevin, a year and a little ago. He wouldn’t let me sing. It was awful, but what I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to be that person again.”
“Okay.” Debbie sat up straight. She pushed her long, straight hair out of her face with a single, French manicured finger and got down to business. “I am going to tell you things you need to hear, but don’t want to. Are you okay with that?”
“Jonathan Drazen is not going to stay with you long enough to care what you do with your spare time. He is very attracted to you, that much I can see. But he is in love with one woman, and one woman only.”
Debbie nodded. “When Jessica left, he begged her to stay. She wouldn’t. He broke down at a shareholder meeting. It was ugly. He was humiliated. He’s still humiliated. He won’t put himself in that position again, I promise you. So if you like him, I suggest you enjoy yourself with him. He will treat you very well, and then you’ll go your separate ways. He can be a valuable friend.”
I nodded. I got it. I felt comforted, in a way, that I could meet him later, have mattress-bending sex, then go home without worrying. I knew I wasn’t getting involved, and if he had the same idea, I was safe.
Debbie gathered her things and started to stand, but I wasn’t done.
“Why did she leave?” I asked.
“Another man,” she said, “and everyone knew it.”
Debbie nodded. “Ouch is right. It should never happen to any of us.”
I hated gigs like Frontage. I had to sing songs someone else wrote to people who weren’t there to see me. I had to sing through waiters taking orders and customers being seated. I couldn’t sing too loud or I’d disturb everyone, and I couldn’t improvise at all. Ever. I was background.
But it was money, if not a lot, and it was practice. It wasn’t as if Vinny had shown up and booked anything fabulous. It wasn’t as if he’d shown up at all in the past two weeks. I simply had nFothing else going on.
We had a dressing room with a smudged mirror and filth on everything. Some time in the eighties, a tube of lipstick had been jammed into the seam between the two pieces of plywood that made up the counter, and the red goo that was out of reach of a folded paper towel had turned brown and crusty. The carpet stank of beer vomit, and the bathroom had been casually wiped down a few days previous. I felt like a superstar.
Gabby was already out there, tinkling the piano. She had a jazzy way of rolling her fingers across the keys, creating a melody from nothing, building on it, and landing into something else without a hitch. Her bag was open on the counter, and I did what Darren and I always did. I took out her meds and made sure she had one less Marplan than she had last night. Ten milligrams, twice a day. Eleven pills in the bottle. Darren had texted me this morning with the number twelve. Good.
I called him. He was headed out for another date with this girl whose name he wouldn’t reveal.
“Hey, Mon,” he said.
“Eleven,” I said.
“What are you doing tonight?” I asked.
“Are you going to tell me her name?” I sat on the torn pleather chair, letting my short skirt ride up since I was alone. My hair was up, and red lipstick coated my lips like lacquer. I looked like a 1950s pinup.
“Not yet,” he said.
“Is it an early date or a late date?” I swallowed hard. I was about to ask a lot.
“Maybe both. Why?”
“I wanted to…” I drifted off, because I wanted to meet Jonathan and relieve the ache he created, but I didn’t want to get into too much detail with Darren.
“Ask. I’m shaving and it’s messing up the phone.”
“I wanted to see Jonathan Drazen tonight. After the gig. Right after. I can be home to watch Gabby by eleven.”
“Can’t. Her boss got her tickets to Madame Bovary.”
Great. A date including a musical would go from dinner at seven p.m. to curtains at eleven thirty. He must like this girl.
“Sorry,” he said. I heard the water running.
“No problem.” I hung up.
Eight months before I ever worked at K, I found Gabby sitting at the kitchen sink, on the high stool I’d used to get cereal as a kid. Her head was on the counter and one wrist had flopped over, spilling blood onto the floor.
I’m so sorry I messed up the floor, Monica, she’d said the next day, in her hospital bed. That was what she was worried about: That I would be mad I had to clean up the floor. I’d just ripped up the whole thing and put in new press-on vinyl tiles. I couldn’t find another way to think about something besides how dead and cold she looked when I pulled her off the stool, or the blood trapped in the drain catch, or the way I’d screamed at her the day before for eating graham crackers in the living room, or the way she’d wept when Darren and I broke up, eons ago. I cried over cracking linoleum flooring because the ambulance had arrived a full nine and a half minutes after I called, and I spent them slapping her because it made her groan and I didn’t know what else to do to prove she was alive.