“One day, Gabster, your obsession with Hollywood interrelationships will pay off.” Darren clicked his laptop closed. “But not today.”
I think one could be at Hotel K, get blindfolded, taken to the Stock, and believe they’d been driven around and dropped in the same place they started: same pool, same chairs, same couches, same music, and same ass**les clutching the same drinks and passing off the same tips. What was different was that there was no Freddie. the Stock had Debbie, a tall Asian lady who wore mandarin collar embroidered shirts and black trousers. She knew every superstar from just their face, and they loved her as much as she loved them. She could tell a movie mogul from an actress and sat them where they’d have the most professional friction. She coordinated the waitresses’ tables according to the patron’s taste and coddled the girls until they worked like a machine.
She was the nicest person I’d ever worked for.
“Smile, girl,” Debbie said. I’d been there a week and she knew exactly how many tables I could handle, how fast I was compared to the others, and my strong suit, which appeared to be my magnetic personality. “People look at you,” she said. “They can’t help it. Be smiling.”
It was hard to smile. We’d had three good shows in a row, then Vinny disappeared into thin air. We’d banged on his office door in Thai Town, went to his house in East Hollywood, and called four hundred times. No Vinny. Every gig he had lined up for us fell through. My momentum was slowing and I didn’t like it.
“What’s your freaking problem?” said one dude as he threw a dollar bill and three dimes on my tray. “You need a blast of coke or something?” He’d looked like every other spikey-haired, fake-blonde, Hugo Boss-wearing douchenozzle who namedropped from zero to sixty in three beers. But Debbie had put his name on the ticket, probably as a favor to me. His name was Eugene Testarossa, the one guy at WDE I’d wanted to meet for months. In my depression over stupid Vinny, I hadn’t recognized him.
I stalked toward the bathroom on my break and bumped into a hard chest that smelled of sage green and fog.
“Monica,” Jonathan said. “Hey. Sam told me he hired you.” His green eyes looked down at me and I wanted to break apart under the weight of them. As he looked at me, his face went from amused to concerned. “Are you okay?”
“Fine, just a bad day. Whatever.” I stepped toward the bathroom, but he seemed disinclined to let me go so easily.
“I got your report. Thanks. It was very professional.”
“You assumed a waitress couldn’t put together a sentence?” His glance down told me I’d been a bitch. He didn’t deserve my worst side. I tried to think fast; I didn’t want a barrage of questions about my life right then. “The Dodgers lost and I’m from Echo Park and all, so I got a little down.”
“The Dodgers won tonight.” His pressed lips and bemused eyes told me he understood I was half joking.
I shuffled my feet, feeling like a kid caught lying about kissing behind the gym. “Yeah. Fucking Jesus Renaldo pulling it out in the ninth like that.”
“He’s got five good pitches in him per game.”
“He tends to throw them in the bullpen.”
“Or trying to pick a guy off.” He shook his head. He looked normal just then, not like the guy behind the desk undressing me with his eyes.
“I’m sorry I was such a bitch, just now.”
“I’m used to it.”
“No, you’re not. Come on. People are nice to you all day.”
He shrugged. “You lied about why you were upset. I get to lie about how people treat me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “I have season tickets on the first base line.”
I felt my eyes light up a little, and getting so excited over something someone else had embarrassed me.
“I could bring you sometime,” he said.
“You haven’t seen a Dodger game until you’ve seen it from the bleachers. Six dolla seats, yo.”
He laughed, and I laughed too. Then Debbie showed up at the end of the hall.
“Monica!” she called out, tapping her wrist.
“Shit!” I cried out and ran back to my station, turning to give Jonathan a wave before rounding the corner.
I put on a smile and made myself as intensely personable as I could. I saw Jonathan at the head of the bar, talking to Sam and Debbie, laughing at some joke I couldn’t hear. When I went to the station to pick up my tray, he looked at me and I felt his sight. He was gorgeous, no doubt. I could write songs about that face, those cheekbones, those eyes, that dry scent.
I wished he’d go away. I tried not to look at him, but he and Sam were still talking at one in the morning. Debbie stood at the end of the service bar, counting receipts, when I came by with a ticket, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I’m sorry I was talking to Mister Drazen in the hall,” I said. “I used to work for him.”
“How often does he come around here?”
“He and Sam have been close since they went to Stanford together, so…once a week? Should I arrange for him to be here more often?”
My cheeks got hot. To Debbie, who read people like neon street signs, the blushing was visible even in the dim lights. I glanced at him across the bar. He was looking at Debbie and me. He lifted his rocks glass, a bunch of melting ice in the bottom. Sam had gone to take care of some late-night hotel business and Jonathan was alone.
“Perfect,” Debbie said to me. “You will bring him his refill.” She hailed the bartender, a buffed out model who worked his body more than his mind. “Robert, give Mister Drazen’s drink to Monica.”
“Debbie, really,” I said.
“Why?” asked Robert, pouring a glass of single malt from a shelf so high I would have needed a cherry picker to reach it. “I’m not pretty enough?”
“You’re plenty pretty,” Debbie said. “Now do it.” She put her hand on my forearm and spoke quietly. “You need more practice dealing with his social class. For you, as a person. Getting used to it will only benefit you. Now go.”
Being mothered was nice, I guess. My mother had been more or less absent since I went to high school, which was about when she and dad moved to Castaic. I never felt abandoned, but I could have used a hand with the day to day bullshit.