I pursed my lips and stared into my tea. “Kevin, I can’t.”
“For one, it would be awkward.”
“Only if we let it be.”
He leaned on the wall, his posture relaxed now that the pitch phase of the process was ended and the artistic seduction phase was about to begin.
“And two,” I said, “I haven’t been able to write a word or make two notes together make sense. I’m stuck.”
“Getting stuck is part of the process”
“It’s a no.”
“So you’ll think about it?”
“Your thirty minutes are up, Kevin.” I stood. “It was nice to see you.”
“Let me walk you out.” He smiled like a man who hadn’t been rejected but had just gotten exactly what he wanted.
Fifteen minutes after Jessica Carnes implied Jonathan’s roughness in bed had broken her wrist, Jonathan had texted me.
—What did she tell you?—
I didn’t answer, and I didn’t hear from him again. Debbie, my bar manager and a friend of Jonathan’s, had seen but not heard the exchange and had alerted him while he was in San Francisco. She’d admitted it with no guilt.
“If you saw your face,” she said, “you would have called him too.”
“Sometimes I think you’re more invested in this relationship than either of us,” I’d replied, arranging drinks on a tray.
“I like you both. Jessica, not as much. Now go serve those before the ice melts.”
But I was glad I didn’t hear from Jonathan again. I didn’t want to have some drawn-out phone conversation about what Jessica had told me and why it upset me whether or not he f**ked her. I didn’t want excuses. I didn’t want conflicting stories. I just wanted to do what I was supposed to be doing: making music, being at peace with it, watching Gabby, doing my paying job without a sad look on my face or clumsy spills.
So when I got another call from Jonathan, I sent it to voicemail. I was driving. And I didn’t want to talk to him. I knew he was back, because for all my posturing, I was counting the days until his return. He texted, and I ignored it. But when I got to a red light, I had to read it. I was only human.
—If you’re ending it with me just tell me, ok?—
Fuck. He had to go there. He had to undercut my delicious spite. I pulled the car over and drafted and redrafted a text. If I saw him before our studio time for WDE tomorrow, I could cut it short. No twelve-hour f**k sessions. Perfect. I needed to avoid hurting myself on his body.
—Tomorrow afternoon to talk?—
My screen told me he was typing, and I imagined his thumb sliding over the glass, the way it had slid over my body, and I shuddered a little as the car idled in a red zone.
I started typing, then stopped myself. A public space meant I couldn’t show that I was upset, and if I were honest with myself for a change, I was upset. The problem with a private space was that being alone in a room with him meant the conversation could only end one way.
—Would the Loft Club be ok? Not exactly neutral—
—It’s fine. 1pm. Gotta go—
I tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and put the car in drive. I’d scheduled Jonathan three hours before a recording session in Burbank. The session had been set up by Eugene Testarossa at WDE because Gabby and I didn’t have a track between us.
The lunch meeting with Testarossa had gone smoothly and lasted exactly one hour. We were stroked, complimented, and offered gigs and contracts that could never be delivered. I’d become convinced some time during college that the most valuable skill one needed in Los Angeles was the ability to tell the bullshit from the real shit. Only one piece of reality entered the conversation.
“Carnival has a new label,” Eugene said as he finished his salad. He’d taken us to Mantini’s and spent the whole meal looking at the door. “Singer, songwriters. Not folk, but a kind of trip-hop poetry. Lyrically heavy lounge.”
“I don’t have a lot of songs ready,” I’d jumped in. I didn’t want to say I didn’t have any have songs, but I couldn’t lie completely without getting busted.
Eugene waved his hand. “We have a songwriter. We need your pipes.” As an afterthought, he turned to Gabby. “And your compositional skills.”
So we’d agreed to cut two songs written by a WDE client at DownDawg Studios in Burbank. Gabby and I were hip-pocketed, meaning they could take a portion of any money we made without committing to represent us over the long term. Gabby giggled the whole way home, but I felt as though I’d just had a fist removed from my ass.
The songs had been messengered the next day. For all Eugene’s pretentions about lyrically driven vocals, they were lame garbage. I was going to have to work twice as hard to make them sound like anything. The last thing I should have done was make a date with Jonathan just before the recording session, but I’d been compelled. It was good timing. I’d have an excuse to leave.
When my phone blooped, I didn’t look at it. If Jonathan and I were on, then we were on. If he had a change, he was going to have to wait for me to accept it. I wasn’t playing games with him. I really needed to get to Darren’s if I was going to talk to him and still get to Frontage on time.
I parked in my driveway and walked down the hill and right on Echo Park Ave. Darren lived in a two-story apartment building with a courtyard in the middle of a giant U. It was exactly like thousands of other buildings in Los Angeles: poorly thought-out, carelessly built, and hopelessly ugly. But the tall hedges and trees in the front gave it the appearance of a quiet hideaway, and its proximity to his damaged sister, who he had to watch if he was going to sleep at night, made it the perfect place for him.
The front gate was chocked open as always by the kids running in and out. I was thinking about how to ask him what I wanted to ask him and what answer I wanted as I trudged up the steps. I passed his window. The TV was on, so he was home. The front door was open, the screen was shut, and inside, Darren leaned on the kitchen doorframe and laughed. It was a relaxed laugh, done with his arms crossed, as an answer to something, and I felt as though I was eavesdropping. I raised my hand to knock, but a man with short sandy hair got up from the couch, and Darren laughed harder as he was engulfed in arms and kisses—wet and passionate—and four robust male arms tangled around each other.