Gabby said she was going for a walk and, trying to make sure she wasn’t alone, I suggested she and I get ice cream at the artisanal place on Sunset.
We sat on the outside patio so the noise would mask our conversation. I poked at my strawberry basil ice cream while she considered her wasabi/honey longer than she might have a week ago.
“It’s good money,” she said, trying to talk me into a Thursday night lounge job. “And no pay to play. Just cash and go home.”
“I hate those gigs. I hate being background.”
“Two hundred dollars? Come on, Monica. You don’t have to learn any songs; one rehearsal, maybe two, and we got it.”
Gabby had spent her childhood getting her fingers slapped with a ruler every time she made a mistake on the piano. Her playing became so perfect she barely had to work at it. She was so compulsive her every waking moment was spent eating, playing, or thinking about playing, so the word “rehearse” couldn’t apply to her because it implied an artist taking time out of their day to get something right, not a compulsive perfectionist basically breathing. She was a genius, and in all likelihood, her genius plus her perfectionist nature drove her depression.
“I only want to sing my own songs,” I said.
“You can spin them. Just, come on. If I don’t bring a voice on, I’ll lose the gig, and I need it.” That hitch in her voice meant she was swinging between desperation and emotional flatness, and it terrified me. “Mon, I can’t wait for the next Spoken gig. I’m twenty-five, and I don’t have a lot of time. We don’t have a lot of time. Every month goes by, and I’m nobody. God, I don’t even have an agent. What will happen to me? I can’t take it. I think I’ll die if I end up like Frieda DuPree, trying her whole life and then she’s in her sixties and still going to band auditions.”
“You’re not going to end up like Frieda DuPree.”
“I have to keep working. Every night that goes by without someone seeing me play is a lost opportunity.”
Performance school rote bullshit. Get out and play. Keep working. Play the odds. Teachers told poor kids they might be seen if they busted their violins on the streets if they had to. Dream-feeders. Fuck them. Some of those kids should have gone into accounting, and that line of shit kept them dreaming a few too many years.
I looked at Gabby and her big blue eyes, pleading for consideration. She was mid-anxiety attack. If it continued over the coming weeks, the anxiety attacks would become less frequent and the dead stares into corners more frequent if she didn’t take her meds regularly. Then it would be trouble: another suicide attempt, or worse, a success. I loved Gabby. She was like a sister to me, but sometimes I wished for a less burdensome friend.
“Fine,” I said. “One time, okay? You can find someone else in all of Los Angeles to do it next time.”
Gabby nodded and tapped her thumb and middle finger together. “It’s good,” she said. “It’ll be good, Monica. You’ll knock them out. You will.” The words had a rote quality, like she said them just to fill space.
“I guess I need it too,” I said. “I got fired last night.”
“What did you do?”
“Spilled drinks in my boss’s lap.”
“That Freddie guy?”
“Oh…” She put her hands to her mouth. “He also owns the R.O.Q. Club in Santa Monica. So don’t try to work there, either.”
“Did you know he’s gorgeous?”
A voice came from behind me. “Talking about me again?” Darren had shown up, God bless him.
“Jonathan Drazen fired her last night,” Gabby said.
“Who is that?” He sat down, placing his laptop on the table.
“He didn’t do it. Freddie did. Drazen just offered me a severance and referred me to the Stock.”
“And apparently he’s gorgeous.” He raised an eyebrow at me. I shrugged. Darren and I were over each other, but he’d rib me bloody at the slightest sign of weakness. “I haven’t heard you talk like that about a guy in a year and a half. I thought maybe you were still in love with me.” I must have blushed, or my eyes might have given away some hidden spark of feeling, because Darren snapped open his laptop. “Let’s see what kinda wifi I can pick up.”
“I don’t talk like that about men because I prefer celibacy to bullshit.”
Darren tapped away on his laptop. “Jonathan Drazen. Thirty-two. Old man.” He looked at me over the screen.
“Do not underestimate how hot he is. I could barely talk.”
“Earned his money the old-fashioned way.”
“A long line of them. He makes more in interest than the entire GDP of Burma.” Darren scrolled through some web page or another. He loved the internet like most people loved puppies and babies. “Real estate magnate. His dad was a drunk and lost a chunk of money. Our Jonathan the Third….” He drifted off as he scrolled. “BA from Penn. MBA from Stanford. He brought the business back. Bazillionaire. He’s a real catch if you can tear him away from the four hundred other women he’s getting photographed with.”
“Lalala. Don’t care.”
“Why? It’s not like you’ve had sex in….what?” Darren clicked around, pretending he didn’t care about my answer, but I knew he did.
“Men are bad news,” I said. “They’re a distraction. They make demands.”
“Not all men are Kevin.”
Kevin was my last boyfriend, the one whose control issues had turned me off to men for eighteen months. “Lalala…not talking about Kevin either.” I scraped the bottom of my ice cream cup.
Darren turned his laptop so I could see the screen. “This him?”
Jonathan Drazen stood between a woman and man I didn’t recognize. I scrolled through the gossip page. His Irish good looks were undeniable next to anyone, even movie stars.
“He has been photographed with an awful lot of women,” I said.
“Yeah, he’s been a total f**k-around since his divorce, FYI. If you wanted him, he’d probably be game. All I’m saying.” He crossed his legs and looked out onto Sunset.
Gabby had a faraway look as she watched the cars. “His wife was Jessica Carnes,” Gabby recited as if she was reading a newspaper in her head, “the artist. Drazen married her at his father’s place on Venice Beach. She’s half-sister to Thomas Deacon, the sports agent at APR, who has a baby with Susan Kincaid, the hostess at the Key Club, whose brother plays basketball with Eugene Testarossa. Our dream agent at WDE.”