A group of punk rockers sit in a booth across from mine and they keep looking over at me, whispering. One of the girls, wearing an old black dress and with short, spiked red hair, nudges the boy sitting next to her and the boy, probably eighteen, lanky and tall, wearing black with a blond Mohawk, starts up and walks to my table. The punks suddenly become silent and watch the boy expectantly.
“Um, aren’t you on the news or something?” he asks in a high voice that surprises me.
“You’re Cheryl Laine, right?” he asks.
“Yes.” I look up, trying to smile. “I want to light a cigarette but I don’t have matches.”
The boy looks at me, made briefly helpless by this last statement, but he recovers and asks, “No matches either but hey, listen, can I have your autograph?” Staring at me hatefully, he says, “I’m, like, your biggest fan.” He holds out a napkin and scratches his Mohawk. “You’re, like, my favorite anchorperson.”
The punks are laughing hysterically. The girl with the red spiked hair covers her pale face with tiny hands and stamps her feet.
“Sure,” I say, humiliated. “Do you have a pen?”
He turns around and calls out, “Hey, David, you gotta pen?”
David shakes his head, eyes closed, face contorted with laughter.
“I think I have one,” I say, opening my purse. I take a pen out and he hands me a napkin. “What would you like it to say?”
The boy looks at me blankly and then over at the other table and he starts laughing and shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“Well, what’s your name?” I ask, squeezing the pen so tight I’m afraid it will snap. “Let’s start there.”
“Spaz.” He scratches at the Mohawk again.
“Yeah. With an s.”
I write: “To Spaz, best wishes, Cheryl Laine.”
“Hey, thanks a lot, Cheryl,” Spaz says.
He walks back to the table where the punks are laughing even harder now. One of the girls takes the autograph from Spaz and looks it over and groans, covering her head with her hands and stamping her feet again.
I very carefully place a twenty-dollar bill on the table and take a sip of the diet Coke and then try, inconspicuously, to get up from the table and I head for the rest room, the punks calling out “Bye, Cheryl’ and laughing even louder and once in the ladies’ room I lock myself in a stall and lean against a door that’s covered with Mexican graffiti and catch my breath. I find Danny’s lighter at the bottom of my purse and light a cigarette but it tastes sour and I drop it in the toilet and then walk back through Canter’s, which is basically empty, walking all the way around its perimeter, keeping to the rim of the room, avoiding the punks’ table and then I’m in my car looking at my reflection in the rearview mirror: eyes red, black smudge on chin, which I try to wipe off. Starting the car, I head for a phone booth on Sunset. I park the car, leaving the engine running, the radio loud, and call my number and I stand in the booth waiting for someone to answer and the phone keeps ringing and I hang up and walk back to the car and drive around, looking for a coffee shop or a gas station so I can use a rest room but everything seems closed and I drive down Hollywood Boulevard looking up at movie marquees and finally I end up getting back on Sunset and driving to Brentwood.
I knock on William’s door. It takes him a while to answer it. He asks, “Who’s there?” I don’t say anything, just knock again.
“Who’s there?” he asks, his voice sounding worried.
“It’s me,” I say, then, “Cheryl.”
He unlocks the door and opens it. He’s wearing a Polo bathing suit and a T-shirt that has CALIFORNIA written across it in bright-blue letters, a T-shirt I bought him last year, and he has glasses on and doesn’t seem surprised to find me standing outside his door.
“I was just going to go in the jacuzzi,” William says.
“I have to use your bathroom,” I say quietly. I walk past him and across the living room and into the bathroom. When I come out, William is standing at the bar.
“You couldn’t … find a bathroom?” he asks.
I sit in a reclining chair in front of a huge television set, ignoring him, then, deciding not to, say, “No.”
“Would you like a drink?”
“What time is it?”
“Eleven,” he says. “What do you want?”
“I’ve got pineapple juice, cranberry, orange, papaya.”