He nodded and pulled my sweater down, then watched as I buttoned up. He seemed pensive, and I wondered if he’d become sensitive to contextual lies.
When we got inside, much of the wake had broken up. The wait staff cleaned and put away, making beelines for the catering truck. Only a few people remained. Darren, in particular, looked lost, milling around the leftovers. Adam wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Jonathan and Debbie spoke quietly at the door.
A man of about fifty, with round plastic glasses and long straight hair, approached me. “Are you Monica Faulkner?”
When I nodded, he held out his hand. “Jerry Evanston. I saw Gabby that afternoon.”
I tilted my head. No memory had been jogged.
“Eugene at WDE asked me to go to DownDawg in Burbank to keep an artist company. It was crazy, but he got me my next gig, and I kind of owed him. I didn’t question it. I wanted to say I’m sorry. I didn’t know this would happen. Eugene’s an ass**le, but I knew him in college, and he’s always got a favor lined up when I need it.”
I nodded and pointed to let him know I knew he was the one who had kept Gabby company while I f**ked up the scratch cut by myself. She’d been right. It had been a setup.
“I’d understand if you’re pissed.”
“It’s okay,” I whispered. “You didn’t know.”
“Your partner played for me, and she was brilliant. Eugene said you were really good.”
I shrugged. It seemed the simplest way to communicate paragraphs worth of feeling. I was good. I was worthless. I was mute. I was music.
“Your voice okay?”
“I have a proposition for you, because I feel guilty about what happened.”
I nodded. The room suddenly seemed stifling with too many people around, and Yvonne giving me the old eyebrow as if I were her source for interesting news.
“Tell me,” I said.
“I got this job. It’s through Eugene, but that’s not going to matter. Carnival Records. I’m working with the EVP to develop new talent.”
“Herman Neville?” I asked, feeling like Gabby with her magic hat of names.
Jonathan came up behind me, and I took his hand. I wanted to lean on him more than anything. He and Jerry nodded to each other.
Jerry continued, “Yes. And I have this studio time I booked for Thursday. In Burbank. The talent cancelled this morning, and I thought, if you wanted to do something low production value, all you, we could put something decent together, and I could bring it to him. No promises. But I’d feel better.”
“Could it be my song?”
“Well, it would have to be. If you have the voice to sing it, of course.”
“Yes.” My agreement came out in a breath, and I wondered what the hell I was doing. I had no song. Shit, I had no voice. What the f**k was I thinking?
“Great, here’s my card.”
“Thank you.” I stared at it. It just had his name and number. Could have been anyone. And as he left, I thought, he was probably the last person to hear Gabby play.
Jonathan came up behind me as Jerry left, stroking my back, his touch electric even through my sweater. I glanced at Yvonne, who seemed to find our intimacy fascinating in a very “you go, girl” sort of way.
“Are you going to be all right?” he asked softly.
“Do you want to stay with me for a few days?”
My knees almost lost the ability to hold me up. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the bed of his spare room, where we’d done all our f**king, and let him stroke and spoon me for days. His voice as I drifted off to sleep, the soft touch of his lips on me, and the feeling of being cared for, safe, partnered, were exactly what I wanted with all my heart. I looked into those jade eyes, which expressed none of the smug dominance of the club, only concern, and said, “I can’t.”
“You’re not a prince, Jonathan. You’re a king. But I’m not ready.” I touched his face and looked right at him, as if that could transmit the depth of my feelings for him, or my doubts about their prudence.
“I’m trying hard not to be a controlling ass**le.”
“You’re doing a good job.”
He left me with a tender kiss that Yvonne saw, and then Darren was gone, too. The staff and all their accouterments disappeared with Debbie telling me I didn’t have to come in tomorrow if I didn’t want to. Then it was me in my clean house, alone. The door to Gabby’s room was closed. I opened it.
My best friend’s knowledge of Hollywood’s web of relationships came from hours and hours of hard work. Her dresser was piled with manila envelopes, each with a name. Colored bars in felt tip pen decorated the bottom of each envelope, cross referenced by name, education, job, and personal and family relationships. Stacks of Variety, the Calendar section of the LA Times, the New York Times, and the Hollywood Reporter rose in towers around the perimeter of the room. I’d asked her repeatedly to make use of the recycle bin, but she always thought there might be one connection she missed, so she couldn’t throw away a shred of paper. In the end, she’d just relegated the mess to her room and closed the door.
Jonathan’s text came in just as I was considering locking Gabby’s door for good.
—Feet hurt. Fine otherwise. I’m going to bed—
—Good night, goddess—
—We still need to talk—
—When you can talk, we will. Now get to bed. No touching. I’ll know…—
I was sure he would, somehow. The same way I was sure he knew about the diamond sitting in a baggie downtown.
I wanted to stay in bed for days after Gabby’s wake, but I couldn’t skip work. I hustled in for the lunch shift dry-eyed and made up. I put on my stage smile for Debbie, who pursed her red lips and seemed generally unimpressed.
“Can you talk?”
I shook my head.
“So what do you think you’re going to do?”
My face must have been a complete blank because I had no answer. Debbie sighed and called Robert over from the other side of the bar where he was flirting with two women who looked like cover models. She took my pad from my hands and said to him, “Monica’s at the service bar tonight.”
“Why? It’s lunch.”
“Question me again.”
Robert was immediately cowed. The tone in Debbie’s voice triggered something in me as well. A recognition. A wakefulness. When she glanced over at me and indicated I should go around to the other side of the bar, I knew what it was because I’d heard it from Jonathan’s lips. Debbie was a dominant.