I offer her a big grin. “Oh, that’s easy. Her son wants a toy and she has somewhere to be so she’s telling herself she’s compromising but really she’s bribing.”
She nods again. “Fascinating.”
We go through a couple more rounds and she gets the idea and begins trying it on her own.
That gives me a chance to take a good look at her. She’s cute with dark brown hair and freckles. I’d guess her age at no older than twenty-four. She has an innocence about her that reminds me of Dahl when she was younger.
“I’m Ben.” I reach my hand out.
“Ruby,” she smiles.
“Nice to meet you, Ruby.”
She blushes and I laugh. I haven’t met someone like her in a long time. We talk for about an hour before she looks at her watch. “It’s getting late. I should probably be going.”
I stand up and shove my hands in my pockets. I don’t try to dissuade her or ask her out. “Yeah, me too. I’ll see you around.” I extend my hand again.
Her grip is weak. She’s timid. And she’s blushing again. After spending the past sixty minutes talking to her, I realize she’s not as similar to Dahlia as I first thought. But that’s okay. She was refreshing to talk to. Even though she seems like a nice girl, any kind of romantic entanglement is the farthest thing from my mind right now. I’m not looking for a love interest—girlfriend or otherwise.
“Yeah, see you around.” She smiles.
I’m thinking about heading over to Beck’s as I leave the coffee shop but decide I’ve had enough to drink for a while, and need to be clear headed for my new job on Monday.
I could always schmooze a congressman’s wife, a publicist’s sister, even a former teacher’s husband, with a few carefully crafted words. Well-rehearsed flirtation is what Dahl used to call it when she heard me in action. When there was a story, I knew how to set about getting it. It was my calling. I can only hope it still is.
After a week of training for this f**ktastic job, I’m finally on my own. Taking in a deep breath, I tell myself I can do this. I can get the story, regardless of what type of story it is. Today should be like going after any other piece—but I know it really won’t be.
I button the last two buttons of my shirt and comb my fingers through my wet hair without glancing in the mirror. I shaved for work today, something I rarely do. The worn leather of my messenger bag in my hand makes me smile. It was the one thing I searched for in the boxes of my stuff that my mom had stored in her attic when I first returned from New York City. I grab it and sling it over my shoulder before walking out the door of the fleabag hotel that has become my home. I decided to stay here until I figure out what’s permanent in my life. But I know I’m stuck here at least until after the trial. Once it ends, I’ll be able to decide if I’m staying in California or heading back to New York City. Who knows, I may even go back to Australia.
I saw Trent last Sunday. I took a bus out to Laguna and we met at the beach. We surfed all morning and then I took him out to lunch. He looks good. He seems to be doing really well. He asked me to help him—he wants to start competing. We discussed the commitment needed to compete and he seems to have it. I know he’s been up before dawn for months and out there conquering wave after wave. He wants me to talk to Serena—to convince her to take him to Hawaii to get the feel of it. He’s planning to go to college in Hawaii and wants to compete in the Pipe Masters. I told him I would try. I also promised that Sundays at the beach would be our thing from now on, but I’d need a few weeks to get a car first. He wanted to give me mine back, but no way was I taking it from him. I know how much he loves it.
Making that phone call to Serena was tough but last night I finally did it. She answered on the first ring. We’d been communicating through Trent since I left for Australia, but hadn’t actually talked in over six months. She asked how I was and I told her the truth—that I was a far cry from getting my shit together but I was much better than the last time she’d seen me. I didn’t bring up Jason. I didn’t have to. Trent told me his father was coming around more and that his mother seemed happier—so I decided to just accept it. In the end, the conversation went extremely well. Turns out, she thinks surfing is helping to keep Trent on course and has already arranged for the two of them to go to Hawaii at the end of the month. I was glad to see her on board, but honestly didn’t expect anything different. After all, she is just like our mother.
Glancing at my watch, I realize I have to jet. Today I have my first official interview. I’ve spent the week learning the ropes, the ins and outs of the job. And I’ve hated every f**king minute of every day. But I still show up, nod my head, and wait for the day to end. Truth is, it pays well and I need the money. I tried to discuss my new position with Christine, but she won’t answer my calls and her secretary just tells me she’s not available. I know her game—she wants what I don’t have to give. So I suck it up and march forward because a job’s a job.
I make one stop by Four & Twenty Blackbirds for my morning cup and as usual I’m greeted by Ruby’s effervescent smile. She’s so grateful that I introduced her to Beck that she now considers me a friend. Turned out her douchebag ex-boyfriend broke up with her a few months ago for another chick but refused to move out. Ruby’s a nice girl, but a little naïve and I can see how she could easily be someone’s doormat. At first when she told me her story all I could think was I wasn’t looking to be her girlfriend—that I’m not someone’s shoulder to cry on. But she looked really down in the dumps. So I grabbed Beck and we paid the douchebag ex-boyfriend a visit when I knew she was working. With just a little coercion he agreed to move out.
On my morning coffee stop the next day I invited her along with me to Beck’s after work that night. I didn’t want her to be there when the dickface moved out. She agreed and she and Beck hit it off immediately. They talked nonstop while I drank my beer and tuned them out. When I was ready to head home, Beck said he’d see to it that she got home safely. He did all right. And they’ve been together ever since. Apparently now I’m a matchmaker—fuck me.
Handsome palm trees loom over the cab as I ride over to the Montage Beverly Hills. I f**king hate having to take a taxi to move around town. I hope to get a new set of wheels over the weekend. I’m actually thinking about a bike. Why not?
Rows of sycamore trees, manicured topiaries, and sculpted metal benches line the driveway. I’ll give it to them—the place has charm. The lobby is simply decorated, but carries such an air of sophistication that even I wouldn’t mind sitting down and having a drink. The elevators are nestled in the corner and I ride one to the tenth floor. The hallways are so nicely decorated that for a minute I forget I’m actually in a hotel.
The door swings open and my muscles tense—fuck, I don’t know if I can do this. But I take a deep breath and then realize my interviewee is standing in front of me. I’m surprised she doesn’t have an assistant doing her dirty work. She’s a little skinnier than she looks in the magazines. A little too skinny. The hotel robe she’s wearing hangs off her and her hair looks like she hasn’t brushed it yet today. Yeah, she’s a disheveled mess. I’d be willing to bet that blow is her drug of choice. I worked with people like her for two years. Looking closely into her eyes, I’m pretty sure she’s straight right now or I’d be gone.
She pats her hair and then tucks a piece behind her ear. “You must be Ben Covington from the LA Times.”
“I am indeed.” I grin at her.
“I’m Sloan Bennett.” She looks down at herself and tugs at her robe to straighten it.
“I didn’t doubt that for a second. Your beauty speaks for itself.” I extend my hand to greet her. “Pleased to meet you.” I make sure the charm is on full force as I try to take this job seriously.
She rubs away some black splotches from under her eyes. “I’m so sorry I’m not dressed. In all honesty I was expecting a Dominick Dunne type, not . . .” She clears her throat. “Never mind. Come on in.”
I laugh and flash her another smile. She leads me to the suite’s main area. The room is large and spacious. Modern chairs and sofas done in monotone colors cluster around a large wooden table.
“Please sit down. Can I get you something to drink?” she asks casually.
I sink back on one of the black cushions of the sofa and open my briefcase to remove my list of questions. “No, thanks. I’m good.”
I look over the list I wrote in my small notebook.
Questions for Sloan Bennett
How did she and Tike meet
Who is designing her gown
Will the vows be traditional or hand written
Who is attending
Where will it be held
She pours herself a glass of white wine out of a crystal decanter from the bar in the corner and has a seat very close to me. She sets her glass down and reaches across me to grab a pack of cigarettes off the table. “So, Ben, how does a guy like you get a job like this?” she asks tapping on the pack.
“If I told you you’d never believe it.”
“Oh, there’s a lot I’d never believe, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or isn’t true.” She takes one of the cigarettes and lights it up, handing me the pack.
She shrugs and tosses the pack on the table. “You’re a real goody two shoes. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?”
“Trust me. Goody two shoes, I’m not.” I stand up. “I think I’ll have that drink.”
She nods. “Help yourself.”
The bar is loaded. I survey my choices, soda or alcohol. I opt for the amber colored decanter. I think I’m going to need it to get through this. As I pour the rich colored liquor from the fine crystal bottle, the familiar scent floods my nose.
“I can’t stand the smell of scotch,” she says.
“The scent of Band-Aids doesn’t appeal to you?” I mock.
“That’s exactly how it smells. Oh my God, you’re so right.”
“They’re both made from the same phenols. That’s why they smell the same.” I tell her.
“TMI,” she answers, the tip of her cigarette flaring as she inhales it. “I may never drink that again now.”
I laugh and sit back down. “Are you ready for this?” I ask.
She nods, blowing out a stream of smoke as she does. I press record on my recorder and set it on the table. I used the same Sony version for years until I had to “die.” I wonder for a moment if the old one is anywhere in my shit that’s stored in my mother’s attic. I make a mental note adding it to my list of things to look for. I clear my throat and start asking her the ridiculous interview questions I prepared. Although she answers each one in a rather flirty manner, the matter-of-factness tone of her actual answers makes me question her motive for marriage. Thirty minutes and one drink refill later the interview is complete. Thank f**king God.
Sloan reaches into the seat cushion and pulls out a small baggie. “Okay, Goody-two-shoes. Time to prove you’re not Dorothy.”
I shake my head but can’t help but smile. She’s holding a bag with at least a dozen joints in it. She lights one up and inhales, handing it to me before breathing it out. I look at it, and I look back at her. I figure what the f**k and grab it.
A few hits later she asks, “Can I ask you a question now?”
“Do you like being blown?”
I cough, choke, and almost spit. “Come again?”
“I asked, do you like bl*w j*bs?”
“Is that a trick question?” I wave off any more of the weed she’s trying to pass me.