Darren and I had taken too long discussing who would watch Gabby. He convinced her to stay at his place for the night, though “convinced” might not be the word to use when talking about someone who didn’t care about where she slept, or anything, one way or the other.
I ran from the elevator to the hotel locker room, the fifty bucks I’d made for holding a hundred people in my palm light in my pocket. I peeled off my jacket and stuffed it in my locker, then pulled my shirt off. I didn’t have a second to spare before Yvonne, who I was relieving, started chewing me out for stranding her on the floor. I yanked a low-cut dress that showed more leg than modesty out of my bag and wrestled into it.
“You’re late,” Freddie, my manager, said. He stank of cigarettes, which I found disgusting.
“I’m sorry, I had a gig.” I kicked off my shoes and pulled my pants off from under my dress. I had no time to worry about what Freddie thought of me.
“Bully for you.” Freddie crossed his arms, scrunching his brown pinstripe suit. He had a mole on his cheek and wore a puckered expression even when he looked down my shirt, which was almost every time we talked.
I didn’t wait to argue. I slipped back into my shoes, slapped my locker shut, and ran toward the floor.
“Yvonne!” I caught her in the back hall as she folded a wad of tips into her pocket.
“Monica, girl! Where were you?”
“I’m sorry. Thanks for covering my tables. Can I make it up to you?”
“I don’t get home in time, you can pay the sitter an extra hour.”
“No problem,” I said, though it was a big problem.
“Jonathan Drazen is at your table.” She put her hand to her heart. “He’s hot, and he’ll tip if he likes what he sees. So be nice.” She handed me the tickets for my station.
Drazen was my boss’s boss. He owned the hotel, but we’d never crossed paths. Apparently, he traveled a lot, and he spent little or no time on the roof when he was in town, so our paths hadn’t crossed. This development was more annoying than anything. I’d just gotten the ovation of my life at a really cool club and was bathing in the warm validation. I didn’t need to prove myself all over again, and based on what? If it wasn’t my music, I didn’t care.
The place was packed: wall-to-wall Eurotrash, Hollywood heavyweights, and assorted hangers-on. The pool was a big rectangle in the center of the expanse. Red chairs surrounded it, and a large cocktail area with tables and chairs sat off to the side. Little tents with couches inside outlined most of the roof, and when the curtains closed, you left them closed unless someone looked as though they’d taken off without paying.
I stood at the service bar, flipping through my tickets. Five tables, two with little star punch-outs in the upper right hand corners. Put there by Freddie, they meant someone important was at the table. Extra care was required.
My first tray was a star punch-out. I put on a smile and navigated through the crowd to deliver the tray to a table in the corner. Four men and I knew Drazen right away. He had red hair cut just below the ears, disheveled in that absolutely precise way. He wore jeans and a grey shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and hard biceps. His full lips stretched across flawless, natural teeth when he saw his tray coming, and I was caught a little off guard by how much I couldn’t stop looking at him.
“H-Hi,” I stammered. “I’ll be your server.” I smiled. That always worked. Then I thought happy thoughts because that made my smile genuine, and I watched Drazen move his gaze from my smiling face, over my br**sts, to my hips, stopping at my calves. I felt as if I were being applauded again.
He looked back at my face. I stared right back at him, and he pursed his lips. I’d caught him looking, and he seemed justifiably embarrassed.
“Hello,” he said. “You’re new.” His voice resonated like a cello, even over the music.
I checked Yvonne’s notes and picked up a short glass with ice and amber liquid from the tray. “You have the Jameson’s?”
“Thank you.” He nodded to me, keeping his eyes on my face and off my body. Even then, I felt as if I were being eaten alive, sucked to fluid, mouthful by mouthful. A liquid feeling came over me, and I stopped doing my job for half a second while I allowed myself to be completely saturated by that warm feeling. In that moment, of course, someone, a man judging from the weight of impact, pushed or got pushed, and my tray went flying.
For a second, the glasses hung in the air like a handful of glitter, and I thought I could catch them. I felt the sound of the impact too long after three gin and tonics and a Jameson on the rocks splashed over each guest. I was shocked into silence as everyone at the table stood, hands out, dripping, clothes getting darker at crotches and chests. A collective gasp rose from everyone within splash distance.
Freddie appeared like a zombie smelling fresh brains. “You’re fired.” He turned to Drazen and said, “Sir, can I get you anything? We have shirts—”
Drazen shook a splash of liquid off his hand. “It’s fine.”
“I am so sorry,” I said.
Freddie got between me and my former boss, as if I would beg him for my job back, which I’d never do, and said, “Get your things.”
Fuck it. Fuck that job and everything else. I’d get another one. I promised myself, I was going to make it big, and when I did, I would come in here with my freaking entourage and Freddie was going to serve me whatever I wanted for no tip at all. Not even a cent. And Jonathan Drazen was going to sit by me and look at me just like he did before I spilled gin and tonic all over him, but like I’m an equal, not some little piece of candy working for tips.
I slammed my locker shut.
I had to find another job soon. I always paid my housing expenses first, but we owed the studio money, and I couldn’t take another dime from Harry.
Freddie strode down the dim hallway, toes pointed out and walking like a duck on a mission.
“Fuck off, Freddie. I’m leaving, and by the way, you’re an—”
“Mister Drazen wants to see you.”
“Fuck him. He can’t summon me. I don’t work for him anymore.”
Freddie smiled like a sly cat. “Sometimes he gives the short timers a severance if he feels bad. Nice chunka change. After that, you can get the hell out if you don’t want to sleep with him. I’d like to see him not get laid for once.”
He took a step closer. I didn’t know why he’d get close enough to touch me, so I didn’t back away, and when he slapped my ass, I was so stunned I didn’t move. He ended the slap with a pinch.