“He’s fine. I got his cheek. I aim like the fag I am.”
I pinched his side, and he cried, “Ow!” We laughed. The rest of the elevator population seemed relieved to get away from us when the doors slid open on the parking lot level. Lil was parked in an Authorized Vehicle Only spot, reading the LA Times.
When Darren saw the Bentley, he stopped in his tracks. “Where’d you get the money to bail me out? Five grand? That’s a lot of cash.”
“I put up a bond.”
“Did one penny of that come from him?”
“I’m not having any part of you being a whore.”
I didn’t know what came over me, maybe the stress of the past few days, maybe the insult, or maybe the fact that I couldn’t speak properly to defend myself. But a ball of kinetic energy ran from my heart and down my right arm, and in order to release it, the only thing I could do was slap Darren across the face.
The clap of it echoed through the parking lot. Lil looked up from her paper. Darren crouched from the impact. The feeling of regret dropped into my belly even as my hand wanted to slap him again and again.
I folded it into a fist and stuck out my index finger. “Get in the car. If you are one minute late for your sister, Theo’s face will look handsome in comparison.” My throat was getting sore from all the harsh whispering, but I was sure I could lecture him for another half-hour if I had to.
He looked enraged with the red marks across his cheek, and his mouth was set in stone, the muscles of his face making tense lines in his jaw. I was a little afraid. Just a little, because I could fight, and I could take a hit. I would do both if I had to.
“The car is ready,” Lil said, suddenly standing beside us with her calm, professional demeanor. She held out her hand toward the open back door of the Bentley. “Please.”
I thought for a moment he’d opt for the bus, but I knew he had no money on him, because it had come back to me in an envelope of personal effects, along with a pocket knife he wasn’t allowed to carry and a few credit cards. He also knew that public transportation would take hours on a Saturday. Despite his self-sabotage, he didn’t want to miss Gabby’s wake.
I nodded at Lil and walked toward the car, not looking behind me to see if he followed. My shoes clonked on the concrete, made louder from the enclosed space. I climbed into the back seat of the car and slid over, looking out the window so I wouldn’t see if he was coming or not. If he saw me watching him, he would be more likely to turn around and take the bus out of pride.
I heard him get in, and the door snapped closed. That was when I discovered how wide that car really was.
Lil dropped him in front of his house. He didn’t wait for her to open the door for him. There was a pause. I didn’t look at him, but I held out the yellow receipt from Kaylee as I whispered, “Three hundred. Cash.”
I felt the paper get snapped from my hand and heard the door close with that satisfying, low-pitched thup you get with expensive cars. I only dared to look when he was walking up his steps, head down, yellow receipt crumpled in his hand. I wanted to run up and hug him. He couldn’t be held responsible for acting like an ass after what had happened with Gabby, but I wouldn’t apologize. Yes, he’d insulted me, but he’d also insulted Jonathan, and somehow, that rankled me even more.
The house was transformed. The front yard was trimmed like a poodle, hedges cut back, fallen oranges picked up and put into bowls at the porch railing, weeds and dead things gone.
“I’ll let you know if I have to go anywhere for Mister Drazen,” Lil said as she blocked the driveway behind a catering truck with chocks under the wheels.
I nodded, my throat too wrecked for one unnecessary word.
“Monica!” Carlos, our neighbor from two doors down, ran toward me holding a manila envelope. He was a cop and very protective of everyone on the block. “Hi, I heard what happened. I’m real sorry about it.”
“She had me look stuff up for her sometimes. About people. Celebrities and agents.”
“Yeah,” he smiled sweetly. “She took me out to dinner or something in exchange.”
I wondered what “or something” meant and decided I was fine not knowing.
He handed me the envelope. “This was the last thing.”
I took it and patted him on the arm. “Will I see you later?”
“Yeah. I’ll come by.”
We parted, and I headed for the house. I walked up the steps to the porch, which had been swept. Potted plants had appeared, giving the sense that the porch was a well thought-out, finished space. Yvonne, who I hadn’t seen since the night I stopped working at Hotel K, almost knocked me over as she strode out to the catering truck.
“Whoa! Monica!” She smiled and kissed my cheek. “You working this gig? Double time. Boo-ya.”
Shit. I was going to have to explain, and I didn’t have the time, inclination, or vocal capability.
“I live here,” I said in breaths.
Yvonne opened her mouth, then snapped it shut, cocking her head. “Girl, they said it was Drazen’s girlfriend.” Her eyes were wide and her face accusatory in a good-humored way. “I saw a picture on TMZ from that art show, I thought that was you.”
“Hello!” Debbie called from inside the house. “Let’s keep it moving.”
“Later. I’ll explain.”
“I want details,” Yvonne said before kicking up the pace to the truck.
The living room had been transformed as well, with chafing dishes on long tables, new lamps, and clean corners.
Debbie took my hands. “How are you doing?”
“You work at the Stock. Jonathan owns K.”
“You do sound terrible. No more talking. I volunteered when I heard. No one from K could do it but Freddie, and he’s on probation. Can’t get within arm’s reach of a waitress, or he’ll be cleaning toilets, or so I hear. You know how the rumor mill works. You. Now. We had the bathroom cleaned, so don’t leave a mess. Go.”
She pushed me across my own living room. I knew three of the people working the wake. All were dressed in catering formals, and all looked at me an extra second before getting back to it. I was mortified. They all thought they were doing an emergency party for the hotel owner’s girlfriend, and it was me.
I went into my room and closed the door behind me. My closet was full of black. I chose a pair of pants and a sweater. I didn’t want anything fancy or special, no bows, sparkly buttons, or short skirts. It didn’t matter that Gabby liked it when I went sparkly; I didn’t feel sparkly. I felt shitty, and I was going to respect her by wearing something so down and boring I’d be invisible.