The fact that I recognized that told me more about myself than I wanted to know. I’d spent the morning and afternoon in busy sequester, puttering around the house, picking up Gabby’s things, and putting them in boxes. The copies of Variety on top of the piano. The shoes by the door. The metronome she left by the TV. Music sheets. I’d separated them into Keep and Toss and then kept everything for Darren anyway. All that time, I heard not her voice in my head, but her music. I sat at the piano and played one of her compositions, the one she played when she was feeling threatened and powerless, the bombastic thing she’d been at just the other night, and I stopped mid-way. I didn’t sound as good as she had. Some keys were off, but she never wrote down her own stuff. She only did notations on pieces she heard and was trying to figure out. I’d snapped up a few sheets of the notepaper abandoned in the Toss bin and played again, writing down the notes as I went. And then, as if the notes could not be contained as simple sounds, words flowed through them. I had run for the legal pad by my bed.
What if he collars me? Slaps me? Spanks me? Bites me? Fucks me in the ass? Whips me? Hurts me? Displays me? Gags me? Blindfolds me? Shares me? Humiliates me? Ties me down? Makes me bleed? Fucks me up?
That f**king list. I could have added another hundred things.
Chocks my mouth open. Pulls my hair. Fucks my face. Calls me whore. Tells me to lick the floor. Destroys me. Makes me hate myself. Turns me into an animal.
And that was it, wasn’t it? I was afraid of turning into something subhuman, not just to him or to the people around me, but to myself.
I’d remembered the tone in Jonathan’s voice when he demanded something of me. The calmness, the surety, the note itself. A chord. I played it, toying with the sounds until I came up with something in D, and I checked the notations I’d made of Gabby’s piece. I could do it. I could keep her alive. I could figure out how to continue with him, if at all.
Hearing that tone in Debbie’s voice threw me for a second, and I stood silent. She raised her eyebrow and made a motion with her hand, indicating that it was time for me to go under the service bar and do my new job. As I passed her she said, “You need to get to the doctor.”
I smiled, not because I agreed, but because I knew it wasn’t something a doctor could fix. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sing in time to record with Jerry on Thursday, but at least I had the beginnings of a song.
I poured for the girls, dancing around Robert to get to the bottles, refilling the ice when necessary, and replenishing the beer. I was definitely stepping on his territory and his tip total for the shift, so I tried to be nice to him.
I was having a fun time just smiling and nodding as forms of communication, until I saw Darren at the bar, looking sullen.
“Hey,” he said. “You’re back there?”
I indicated the service part of the bar just as Tanya came up with a ticket. I filled glasses with ice, then the liquor, and stuck her ticket at six o’clock. It was still slow, so I leaned over the bar, wiping the space in front of Darren.
“Can you get me a beer?” he asked.
I shook my head. Robert was already giving me the devil eye. I pointed at the beers. Robert slipped it out of the case, poured it, and opened the ticket.
“I got your thing,” Darren said. “Pretty big f**king rock.”
I held out my hand.
“I left it on the piano.”
I nodded and glanced at Debbie, who was on the phone and watching me.
“I’m not sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have called you a whore, but that doesn’t change anything.”
I had so much to say, starting with the fact that I had no use for his non-apology and ending with the fact that I didn’t need his judgmental attitude. But I’d also evened it all out by slapping him good and hard, so it wasn’t resentment I held as much as impatience. He needed to get over it so we could work on the Vancouver piece, whatever that would be.
Angie, another waitress, came by with a ticket, and I poured her drinks. Then Tanya. Then the new girl, whose name I’d forgotten. They were all working harder because I wasn’t on the floor, and Robert was making less, so I tried hard to pull my weight. By the time I turned around, Darren was gone, and two hundred-dollar bills sat under his empty bottle. Robert went for them, but I snatched them first.
“What the f**k, Monica?”
Not being able to talk was getting on my last nerve. I showed him the money and grabbed him by the back of the neck, whispering as clearly as I could, “Paying back a loan.” I looked him in the eye with all the intensity I had. I wasn’t taking an argument for an answer. I pushed him away.
Then I saw Jonathan at the end of the bar. It was the same seat he’d occupied the night I’d kissed him overlooking the Valley on Mulholland and again at the food truck lot. He leaned on both elbows, talking on the phone and watching me. I hadn’t seen him at the Stock since the day he’d left me hungry and begging for him on Sam’s desk. I assumed he was intentionally and respectfully avoiding my shifts. I approached him. He opened his hand, and I took it just as he finished his call.
I mouthed, Hello, king.
“Still not talking?”
I shook my head, just staring at him. I was used to him, the curve of his jaw and the color of his hair. He was a familiar thing I was getting to know deeply, line by gorgeous line. I wanted to crawl over the bar and drop into his arms.
“When do you record with that guy?”
Thursday, I mouthed. He watched my lips move with an unnerving intensity.
“And what were you intending to do about this problem?”
I shrugged. I was anxious about the non-talking. I didn’t think about much else, but I didn’t have a cure. I knew it wasn’t physical; fear that kept my vocal cords from connecting.
“Do you have plans after work?”
I shook my head again. Yesterday, I would have been able to answer, but this thing had been getting worse. His concerned look told me he noticed. I caught sight of Sam approaching and slipped my fingers from Jonathan’s and went back to the service bar.
Jonathan didn’t make an appearance at the bar again, which was just as well. The dinner crowd was larger than usual, and we were busy enough for me to get a few grateful looks from Robert. My shift seemed to end in no time at all, but it was dark, and the heat lamps had just been turned on when relief arrived.
Debbie handed Robert and me our envelopes. “Nice night,” she said. “Thank you both for working together. You—” She pointed at me. “—get that throat looked at. You did fine, but we don’t need you at the service bar. We need you on the floor, acting witty and charming.”