The Kings of Salsa – Isabella Esser-Munera
August 7, 2018
For Jimmy, on your wilder nights
Martina, Downtown LA, 3pm
Well what do you want to do? Martina texted.
I want to get WILD
Zoey typed back.
Shit. Martina sighed, looking at the clock in the upper right hand side of her laptop. Hours away from 6 o’clock, and traffic to West Hollywood was going to be a bitch.
Partying was the last thing she wanted to do.
Alejandro’s? she typed, hesitantly. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea. But he’d be sure to get them wasted. For free.
Martina hit send.
Zoey responded immediately.
Zoey was, after all, her best friend. It was her birthday.
Alejandro, Santa Monica, 3:35pm
Alejandro felt the top of his head.
He had a sharp cut, silver, razed along his sides and top.
A foxy, older look, his barber swore, clapping him on the back. They had taken a quick shot in the back, sucked in a hiss — rah! — rolled their tongue over their teeth. “Hasta luego, amigo!” Alejandro had yelled, throwing a wave over his shoulder as he stepped out of the shop.
Alejandro was not a young man. Nor was he, he reasoned, an old man.
He twisted his mouth up in a corner at the mirror, stretching out his cheek to better shave it down. Ran the razor through the white foam: a beautiful, clean line of skin. The human body was a work of art. And the shaving products! He shook his head. Work of art.
He continued, carefully swiping line after line on his cheek, exposing skin. Alejandro owned two of the most successful “hole-in-the-wall” bars in LA. Tonight, in his favorite of the two, there would be a live band.
A salsa band.
Alejandro smiled, took a sip from the beer on the sink. Ah. Delicious.
The girls were ready. Hungry, he thought, pobrecitas, they knew what a night like this meant like in tips. He had asked Martina if she would DJ; maybe, she had responded. Maybe.
Alejandro finished the last drag over his skin, flipped the water faucet off and shook out the razor. He observed himself in the mirror. Martina had said, flirtatiously, cocking her head up at him: “Don’t you want to let a beard grow out?”
Casually, too casually, so that he had to suppress his laughter, she asked later in bed if he had children. A man of his age, with such a gorgeous apartment and such a successful empire- must have a wife somewhere. Secret children.
Alejandro laughed out loud into the mirror, thinking about it.
“No,” he had told her, wagging a finger and grinning across the sheets, “I’m Colombian corazon, not Dominicano.” He had winked.
Alejandro took another quick pull from the bottle, leaned in closer, slapping some water along his jaw, running a finger along it. He smiled to himself. Martina would be there, he was certain of it. He remembered vividly her ass in the air on New Year’s, when they had shut down the bar at four am but a few old bar friends, the waitresses, Martina– had stomped down the stairs to the basement.
Alejandro had it furnished for precisely this reason: couches, TV, a gleaming countertop and glittering lines of cocaine. And Martina, her eyes growing wide, “You don’t do this every night, thank god?”
And then they turned off the lights, music drowning the room, the waitresses swimming in it, dancing in the dark, pulling the men’s shirts, swirling into them, licking each other’s cheeks for another man’s pleasure and laughing. Slipping into bathrooms, into other corners.
How that night in the dark Alejandro had lifted Martina onto the table, all her plush weight in his arms, gripped her ass in his fingers, long curls down her back. How she had laughed as he cocked her legs back and plunged his mouth into her sweet cream pie, devouring her desert. Martina– ah, Martina! — moaning in pleasure, beckoning with a wink Samuel, who climbed up and stood behind her, taking her breasts in his hands and mouth until screaming she fell onto Alejandro, Samuel digging into her from behind. Alejandro, clenching her in two hands as they began kissing furiously, his palms filled with her breasts until she lept onto him, the dress flapping back down over her ass, and straddling him there as he stood, rocked into him. Tongue flooding his mouth, moist lips under the soft of his jaw, licking along his collarbone, tearing into his neck.
Mmm. Alejandro rubbed his hands vigorously off on the towel, tossed it in the hamper beside him. Cute thing.
Dressed in a crisp white shirt, Alejandro exited the luxury condo, the glass doors sliding open for him. He beeped to find the black escalade parked out front. Glancing up for a moment, the sun falling across the walkway Alejandro suddenly decided no, fuck it, what a beautiful day. A shame to drive. He’d walk. He pocketed his keys, began to whistle a tune to Hector Lavoe.
Marcus, THE VALLEY, 3:35pm
Marcus fumbled with the phone. Shit. Jesus.
“Hey,” he answered breezily into the receiver. “You still coming?”
“Oh, yeah.” Marcus was sweating. Jesus, it was hot. He picked at his collar, let some air escape into his shirt, now clinging to his body.
“Yeah, it’s uh, my friend’s birthday,” he answered. “My roommate knows the bartender. Should be a good time.”
“Oh, when?” Marcus’ face changed rapidly, immediately standing alert at the street pole.
“Uh, yeah, okay,” He pulled the phone from his cheek, squinting at the time.
“An hour? Yeah, word. I’ll be there.”
It had been five years since he saw Louise.
Marcus kicked up the skateboard at his side, stepped on. Took his cap off, fluffed his hair with a hand as he sailed down the street, fit it snugly back down. He sighed, leaning left, wind rippling through his shirt. Louise. From New York. He closed his eyes, leaned right. Opened them. Five years.
Becky, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 4:45pm
“Pues, I don’t know.” Ximena giggled. She swung her legs on the bar, slurping the last of her bubble tea.
“You said you didn’t want anything,” she had said, gliding past Becky when she came back from her break.
Becky frowned. She mopped up the counter with the rag, a plate shattering loudly in movie playing behind her. Alejandro was always into these old artsy films. Behind her, a woman’s voiced shrieked, a blurry quality to the sound. Classics, Alejandro called these shitty movies, the awkward color and lighting. Kissed the tips of his fingers and flung them at the screen. Works of Art.
“Becky you think Jose is coming tonight,” Ximena asked, singling her out. She made direct eye contact, her pretty almond eyes and dark skin. The straight hair trailing past her shoulders, over her breasts.
Becky stood up.
Becky was thin and tall, not at all like the other Mexican girls at the bar. She had freckles, dyed hair blonde. It contrasted sharply with her dark eyebrows.
“Why do you go by Becky,” Ximena had asked her on the first day, bluntly. “Rebecca is so much nicer.”
Becky had shrugged, not looking at her. Continued cutting up limes. “I mean, I don’t mean to offend you,” Ximena continued. “Just saying.”
“Probably,” Becky told her now. She leaned onto the counter, pressing the rag down so water leaked out and puddled around it. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”
The door opened, a quick slice of street life noisily filtering into the bar and then abruptly cutting off as the door shut. The other two waitresses breezed in, chatting amiably. They were the youngest, a cousin of Ximena’s, the one; and her friend, applying soon after. Both were petite, curvy. Round noses, hair swept back into long black ponytails. Thick lashes.
“Ximenaaa, miamor,” the one pouted, “Fuck, you never told me where that new bubble tea spot is! Is it good? Puta! Where’s mine, hoe.”
She settled into a bar stool, digging her hand into a carton of IN-N-OUT fries, the other bee-lining for the bathroom- “I gotta piss so bad, that bathroom was a fucking catastrofe.”
“Gimme a fry and we’ll talk about it,” Ximena answered the first, waggling her tongue suggestively around the thick pink straw.
Alejandro walked in.
“Alejandro!” they all cried at once, and then immediately laughed.
“Ladies,” he yelled out dramatically, flinging his arms out. “Mwah,” he exclaimed in delight, “how beautiful you look today! Hermosas, marica. How are we feeling?” He sauntered over to the bar, taking out five shot glasses. “Big night tonight.” He pulled out a bottle of tequila with a flourish, pouring the shots with fluid expertise. “Because let me tell you, I’m feeling maravilloso.”
“Oh my god, Alejandro,” one of the young waitresses said, laughing. “You are too much papi, we like just opened.”
“You are a fucking disaster,” Ximena corrected.
“Come here, baby. You know you love it.” Alejandro wriggled his eyebrows rapidly up and down at her.
Becky inched closer to the bar. She actually couldn’t stand Tequila. Very un-Mexican of her.
“Oh,” the girl returning from the bathroom cried, whipping her head back and forth to Alejandro and the shots to the girls in front of him. “Dammmn, Alejandro! Usually we wait at least fifteen minutes!” She popped into the stool across from him.
“Special occasion,” he answered her. He sliced a fresh lime for them, quick sharp strikes on the counter. Wiped immediately after himself, tucked the towel into his back pocket in a single practiced movement.
“Oh,” the girl across him said, as if noticing Becky for the first time, “But Becky doesn’t like Tequila.”
Becky felt her face prickle with heat.
“For you, my love, I’ll make you something special.” Alejandro looked at Becky directly and smiled. “My secret margarita.”
Becky smiled back.
Alejandro ducked out out of view for a few seconds, pulling a green pitcher out of the fridge. It wasn’t fresh, but it was always cold and always good. No one knew exactly what was in it. It was green.
He dunked a glass in a pile of salt, twisted the rim, flipped it back upright, poured the mixture sloppily into it.
“So who’s this guy,” one of the girls asked. “The band. The Kings of Salsa.”
“They seem old,” her friend added.
“They are old,” Ximena interrupted. “And no one dances salsa, Alejandro, except you. We all Mexican as fuck here.”
Alejandro laughed. He finished washing his hands.
“So what, they’re old. And you know what,” he said, wagging a finger, wiping his palms rapidly on his pants,, “You need to learn salsa. For the culture.”
The two girls rolled their eyes.
“I know this guy,” he continued, “You know, I fell in love for the first night because of that man,” he informed the waitresses, looking up at them from under his eyebrows, taking a hearty sip of his concoction before passing it to Becky. Their fingers touched.
“You’re such a fucking cheeseball,” Ximena accused.
“Salud,” he declared, raising his shot. “To us.”
The shots clinked, everyone’s face wincing and then settling in the same flash.
“Vamos, chicas,” Alejandro said, stepping out from behind the bar and moving to the basement stairs, opening the door. “Let’s get ready, have a quick kick-start to our night.” He winked over his shoulder as the girls hopped off the stools.
Ximena delayed, finishing her drink.
“No?” Alejandro said, pausing by the door as the other girls passed down the steps in front of him, already giddy by the idea of cocaine. They didn’t always accept, but something about tonight felt good.
“Of course, Alejandro,” Ximena answered, smiling. Her dark eyes warm and soft. She slipped off the bar counter, dropped the plastic bottle into the trash. “Anything for you, boss.” She linked her arm in his. They descended.
Louise, LAX, 5:15pm
Louise waited at LAX.
She was already feeling hot in jeans. They hung low on her, she probably wouldn’t wear them around.
Palm trees. Wow.
She slid out a notebook from her bag, the brush markers.
Sitting down she sketched a rectangle, borders and lines like the airport windows. Another rectangle: the bench. Faintly, with quick strokes, the silhouettes of those waiting.
“Hey,” a man called breezily, nodding to her. Louise’s spine tightened instinctively, then relaxed. He stepped over her bag without even looking at the drawing, waving to a group of tall, lanky boys. Surfboards under their arms.
LA. Damn. How friendly.
Wya came a text. Marcus.
Louise smiled. He continued: I’m here.
She shaded her eyes, squinting out the window. Couldn’t see shit. Put her notebook in her bag, stepped out into the heat.
She heard a beep immediately and turned.
“Oh, shit,” she breathed, grinning. “Nice whip.”
“Thanks.” Marcus’ face came closer, peering out of the rolled window, everything sleek and black and leather. She opened the gleaming door, slid in beside him.
“This is yours?” she asked, trying to hold her surprise. In the time she had known him, Marcus had only biked or skateboarded everywhere.
“Oh,” he said. He fiddled with his phone, changing the song. “Yeah.” She looked at his long, tan fingers, his dark black hair. Pretty-boy chicano, she remembered. He settled on a track. “I learned how to save,” he said, and finally smiled at her.
They pulled onto the highway and he nodded at her jeans. “Yo, you finna die out here?”
Louise laughed. “It was cold on the plane!”
“You’re in LA now, bitch,” Marcus reminded her, merging swiftly. “You’re gonna die,” he repeated. He gestured at the car thermometer. “One-oh-one.”
“I’m not going to die,” she retorted.
Marcus shrugged. “Arright,” he said, eyes trained on the road. “Just check in with me on gang colors when you unpack.”
Louise smiled, watching the palm trees. Scrawny little arms, the highway twisting away as though the heat were melting the concrete.
“So, how are things,” Marcus turned for a moment, meeting her eyes briefly before returning to the road.
Louise leaned back. Marcus was playing hip hop, she couldn’t identify the track. Whatever he said, he was much, much cooler than she was.
“You know, same shit.”
“Bro, you don’t smile,” he cut in, looking at her. “Is that New York tough coming through?”
“Haven’t you heard about not telling girls to smile?”
“I knew it,” he said, flicking on the blinker, turning. “The second I said that shit I regretted it. I don’t mean that any kind of way.”
“Yo,” Louise said, chuckling, kicking her sneakers off and pressing her knees onto the dash. “Shut the fuck up.” She gazed out the window and relaxed. Turned to him. “So are you getting me In-n-out or what?”
Marcus smiled, picking up his cap and then setting it back down. “Of course,” he said, looking at the right rearview mirror across her chest, eyes hovering above her freckled shoulders. “First stop.”
Yenny & Sebastian, THE VALLEY, 5:45pm
“C’mon, yenny,” he pleaded.
His fiance stood by the dresser. A blue dress, ruffles at the end, thin straps. Dropping past the round bump.
“It’s not about that, Sebastian.” She lifted a part of the curtain to look outside. Jenny’s hair was loose, long and dark. She was beautiful, he thought. And felt guilty.
“I love Pepe. You know that,” she said, exasperated. “We were supposed to have a quiet night.”
“I know,” he began. His hair tied up behind him, the clean white shirt. He sat on the bed. “It’s just– any show we have, we have to take. You know? That’s money, Jen. For the baby.”
Jenny turned to him now, fully. Hands on her hips, thin gold bangles. Legs bare and tan under the dress. Tiny toes dotted bright pink.
Pregnancy weight hadn’t touched her. Her bright green eyes burned out of her face.
“I don’t want to go.”
Sebastian took a deep breath.
“Jenny. We only have one car.”
“So I’m just going to sit here and wait for you like every other damn night? Get fuckin groceries and then I’m supposed to wait for you to take my ass to the appointment tomorrow, like you’re not coming whatever the fuck hour in the morning? Are you serious?”
“Jenny,” he said again.
Sebastian got up.
He took her hands, she yanked them away, turning from him.
“Baby, I know. I know. I know I know I know.” He put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing her arms. “But how much are those appointments.”
Sebastian reached for her hair, tucking a lock behind her ear. He felt her stiffness slowly relent, relax. He put his arms around her, swaying, dropping his hands to her belly, kissing her shoulders.
“Come with me,” he said.
Jenny sighed. She leaned her head back on his shoulder and groaned. “You’re the worst,” she told him.
Zoey, Malibu, 6pm
“Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much Karen. I’ll get that to you 3pm tomorrow. Okay. Okay. Yes, of course, my pleasure. Bye doll, thanks so much, seriously.”
Zoey hung up the phone.
Click. Another thing off the calendar. Just a few more emails to fire off.
She scrolled through them quickly, troubleshooting. Ah, someone else to call. She dialed rapidly, chatting and smiling, taking a slurp from her coffee. “Of course!” she exclaimed brightly. “So glad we could straighten that, yes what a relief, I know, it’s so hot isn’t it? Go ahead, yes, go to the gym, go ahead!” She cheered the man on the other end of the line.
Hung up. Swirled her chair over to the left, grabbed her phone, typed off a few reminders. Ah! Speaking of gym. Almost forgot she scheduled a training today before celebrations. What else? What else.
She leaned back. Bit her lip. Her fingers crept toward her phone.
Should I invite Paul? she texted.
Martina texted back immediately: He’s already coming.
Zoey laughed, her pretty face breaking out into lines. She flipped the blonde hair behind her self-consciously. Well, well. Martina, of course, had that shit under control.
Thank god, honestly.
Zoey leaned over, hair falling back over her shoulder, manicured fingers back at the keyboard, arched brows focused, click click clicking away.
Pepe & Rosario, THE VALLEY, 6:20pm
“Ah.” Pepe sighed with pleasure, putting the bottle back down on the coffee table.
He smacked the man lying on the couch in front of him, loud enough to hear the liquids in his belly slosh in shocked response. The belly was a perfect angle: round and face-up beneath the white tank top, a neat bell curve. “C’mon,” Pepe said, slapping the quivering mass once more for good measure, one two quick pats as the man reached up to press his knuckles into his eyes. “Let’s go.”
“Shit, man.” Rosario groaned. His hair barely reached the top of his ears: a cute, shiny dome ringed in black fur at the sides. The man was bald, whenever he fessed up all the better. “Where’s my glasses,” he mumbled, patting the table next to him.
Pepe quickly caught the bottle he almost knocked over.
“You need to wake up, Rosario.” He placed the rum gently down on the old carpet.
Rosario moaned loudly. Inhaled deeply, hands still over his eyes.
Pepe’s name wasn’t really Pepe. It was Peter. Peter, for a Cuban guy. Ridiculous. It was embarrassing. But his parents, the one, had been from Spain. That’s what his mother had told him, firmly. Bless her heart.
“How many times am I gonna have to pick you off this couch, man,” Pepe was asking, giving his friend’s legs a little shove. Leaning down like this was already ruining his shirt, he just ironed it crisp. Dammit. He straightened.
Rosario did not move.
Pepe glanced around at the dark, messy apartment. Rosario’s second wife had left him some time ago; Rosario hadn’t gotten his act together since. Pepe noticed an abandoned box of Marlboros. Swiftly slipped it in his pocket.
Rosario chuckled, finally laughing, his stomach moving with him. “Ahh, marica. Is it dark out?”
“Aiite, so we got time.” Rosario sat up, swinging his feet to the floor.
He stretched. “Where would I be without you, Pepe,” he murmured, yawning. He noticed the bottle at his feet, took a swig. Shook his head as if to clear it. “Damn.”
“I don’t know, caballero,” Pepe picked off a clean-looking blue shirt from the chair. “Hopefully not here. You’re lucky I have a key.” A pair of slacks, shucked off by the door.
“Not here is right.” Rosario stood up, finding his glasses on the kitchen table. He looked like the middle aged man he was, thick dark hair creeping out of the tank. “Let me tell you though, Pepe,” He tightened the belt already around his sagging khakis, folding the leather into the loop, “I had a helluva night yesterday. Yo man, I’m tellin’ you,” Rosario tucked in the tank a little more firmly as Pepe rummaged in the closet for shoes, “I don’t know why people go after young chicks, like. Them viejitas know all the tricks.” He looked around, as if seeing his apartment for the first time. “You seen my deodorant anywhere? Not that I can’t bag una polla fresca, if you know what I mean.” Rosario shuffled into the kitchen, opened the fridge. “Pepe,” he called, still bent down.
“Man, I haven’t seen your fuckin’ deodorant.”
“Jesus, was going to ask if you wanted a corona. See that is the difference- a young chick is actually just fine with the coronas, the older ones think it’s just cheap. You think I’m just lucky or what?” Rosario popped off the beer cap, the metal ringing on the counter.
“I dunno man, I honestly don’t know,” Pepe said, rising and turning to face him, opening his arms in exaggerated disbelief. A shoe was in each hand. “You don’t have swag for shit.”
Rosario laughed a deep, warm laugh, the kind of laugh, Pepe supposed, that made you trust him. “But you’re the best violinist I know, so fuck it.” Pepe dumped the shoes down in front of the couch, where he had laid out the shirt and pants.
“Hell yeah,” Rosario agreed, pulling from the beer.
Pepe regarded him for a second. Straight men were hopeless. “Yo, seriously man, I love you Rosario you know, I do but we gotta go.”
Rosario held up his hands. “Halfway dressed, man.”
“No,” Pepe said, shaking his head, and crossing to the kitchen. “No no.” Pepe now pushed Rosario’s bulk fully in the direction of the shower. “Give yourself a motherfuckin’ shower man, we ain’t no savages here ok.” He clapped his friend’s back and shut the door. “We’re fuckin professionals,” he yelled at the door, “Let’s go.”
Rosario fumbled inside, still carrying the beer. Pepe heard him place the bottle on the tile. “Arright, arright, jesus,” Rosario’s voice came from behind the door, the shower coming on. Within moments, Rosario was humming. Not singing, thank god. That was Pepe’s job.
Pepe uncorked the tequila bottle once more, sighing. Took another swig, swishing it in his mouth.
The Crew, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 7pm
“I brought the birthday girl, bitch!” Martina yelled.
“PUTAAAS!” Ximena cried in delight, leaping out from behind the counter.
The happy-hour bar was already crowding, the old heads Martina knew so well. Half of them bald, some with thick arms and tattoos, deep skin; some in flip flops and loose T’s, yellowed teeth. Laughing, laughing, hunched over their coronas, their tequila.
“Hey girl,” Zoey said, smiling, stepping one leg out in front of her.
“Okayyyy,” Ximena said, grabbing her hand. “Give us a twirl, baby. Oooh, yes mama! Yes birthday queen!” She gave Zoey a kiss, took her by the shoulders and looked at her seriously. “You’re my favorite white girl, you know that?”
“Get me a fucking Margarita,” she ordered.
“Ugh yes,” Martina declared, smiling, sliding over to the bar.
“Que mas mami,” a man with watery blue eyes and dark skin said. His hair was short; ex marines, Martina knew.
“Quiubo, miamor,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. She went down the line, greeting each men cordially, reserving two kisses for the ones she liked best.
“Can you believe her,” Zoey said, in amazement.
Ximena patted the seat at the table beside her, shaking her head. “Lord knows, girl. They’ll all buy her drinks though.”
Marcus walked in.
“Marcus!” Zoey cried in delight. He waved.
“Hey baby,” said Ximena said, looking up at him, crossing her feet under the table. Some white girl with him.
Once, on New Year’s, Marcus and Ximena had kissed.
Marcus and Louise sat down.
“This is Louise,” he said, introducing her.
“Damn Marcus,” Zoey chided, eyes opening wide in mock shock, “She can introduce herself. Hiii.”
The blonde smiled prettily at Louise. Louise noticed how white her teeth were. “Zoey,” the blonde told her, extending a hand.
Louise gingerly clasped the fingers. “Nice to meet you.”
Martina sat down, two glasses of something dark in each hand.
“Is that straight whiskey?” Zoey gasped, eyes widening again. “You’re a monster.”
“When in Rome,” Martina shrugged flippantly, settling into her seat. “ Sup Marcus,” she nodded, sliding one over to him.
“You want this?” Martina asked the stony, pale-faced girl next to him, as if noticing her for the first time. She pointed at her remaining glass.
“Sure,” Louise answered.
Martina slid that glass over too, hands now empty. “So now I’m just gonna grab this,” she said cheerily, taking Zooey’s margarita and tilting it back into her mouth.
Zoey laughed, a loud rich laugh. “Ohhhh boy,” she shook her head, “Ohhh boy! Here we go guys, here we go.”
“Sorry,” Martina said, swallowing. “You’re Louise, right.”
“Hey,” Ximena cut in, by way of entrance.
“Hey,” Ximena repeated, mimicking her. Then laughed. “Yo, you dead have the same face as my abuela. Just straight resting latina bitch face.”
Louise grinned. “Shit, sorry.”
“No, no,” Ximena said, pulling from her beer bottle. “I respect that. Tough.” She nodded towards the dark glass. “Go ahead and drink that, honey.”
Marcus wanted to die. Louise took a drink.
“DAMN,” all three girls yelled.
“Yooo, no fuckin’ reaction.” Martina grinned. “Good shit.”
Paul, Glendale, 7:33pm
Paul wasn’t into white girls.
This he could say for certain.
He lay into his horn, once, hard. Fuck these mfs. He was already tight work had made him miss happy hour. Blow the horn again, why not.
Rolled down the window, tapped the joint out once. Sometimes air conditioning didn’t cut it.
Marcus had said: “But you’re fucking search history bro. C’mon fam.” He was laughing. “All blondes with massive tits.”
A homeless man. Okay, well.
Maybe roll up the window again.
When Marcus showed up from New York, he had been totally off. Dazzled. Couldn’t shut up about the damn place. And the girl.
Paul had met Louise. Once. Fucking full of herself.
“Bro, seriously?” he’d asked. “What you see in them white girls?”
Porn wasn’t the same as real life. Even he knew that.
Another lay into the horn. Goddamn. Paul unrolled the window once more, tossed the stub, turned up the dial. Cocooned in hiphop. He didn’t mind being that obnoxious hoe on the parkway, car shaking with bass.
Marcus had shaken his head. “I don’t know man,” he had said. “I just like them. They’re like…” he had searched for the word, pushed the smoldering joint out on the bottom of his Vans. “Softer. You know?”
“What, like every Mexican chic is a fuckin chola? You’re a sensitive fuck,” Paul had accused.
“Man,” Marcus laughed into the light, “and you’re a fuckin’ hot head, is the thing.”
Marcus had been right though. Tonight, he was definitely fuckin a white girl. Zoey.
He turned up the dial again.
Band, Outside DOS LOROS LOCOS, 8pm
Sebastian handed Rosario the instruments from the back of the truck, carefully.
Rosario hated Sebastian.
He had tried to explain it to Pepe: “He’s a young, chiflado shit.”
“Not cocky Rosario, just young,” Pepe had answered, after already hiring him into the band. They needed fresh blood. “And he’s handsome, and you’re bitter.”
It wasn’t that. Rosario could, in good spirits, be a jolly old man. Un pinche Santa Claus.
But Sebastian was an incredible drummer. He had talent. He could play drums, trumpet, piano.
This, Rosario was pretty sure, was what unsettled him.
When Sebastian finished unloading the instruments, he gave him a grin and a thumbs up. He was wearing his hair up in a messy bun, an effeminate look that also went back to the seventies, where Don Juans wore their hair long and silky with a thick mustache, topped with a leather cowboy.
They went inside.
The Patrons, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 8:15pm
Paul would soak Marcus up the rest of the evening. That dickwad.
When he came in, he immediately started ignoring her. This would have been fine, but the way he was looking at Zoey was downright pervy.
Louise might be getting wasted. What number drink was this?
That’s when the musicians came in.
They came in like a parade, one after the other. There were only three, a singer, a violinist, a drummer on keys. Orange, green, blue.
Louise was immediately fascinated.
A gorgeous, chiseled middle-aged man ambled over to them from behind the bar, clapping them on the back, greeting them loudly.
Louise noticed that the table had gone quiet.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
“Alejandro,” Marcus answered. “He owns the place.”
Something changed in the room.
It seemed to take only seconds.
The skinny little one in an orange suit and curls around his head like a halo tapped the mic. The group did not even get a beer, unfolding themselves in the corner, their fingers touching the edges of their instruments. The room shaped itself around the clutter of men at the stage, softening their chatter, looking over their shoulders.
The skinny man with curly hair spoke into the mic.
“Señores y señoras, me llamo Pepe.”
Louise understood that part.
He lifted his arms out, in an all embracing gesture. “And I am going to sing for you tonight.”
His voice was liquid gold, full and smooth and warm. It filled the whole room. He didn’t have a hint of an accent.
Pepe began to sing.
The balding man with the violin moved his arm rapidly, in a score Louise knew was triple time. It sounded like a flute. An entirely different sound.
The drummer had his eyes closed. He wore a bandana folded around his neck, wagged his head up and down to the rhythm. Hair tied up, ring on his finger.
Around her, one by one, people were getting up.
A middle-aged woman in a long printed skirt. A heavy-set man laced in tattoos. A tiny, skinny old woman in black tanktop and no bra. A tall, younger man with massive shoulders and pointed shoes, smelling of cologne.
The bar began to pulse. Someone was cheering.
Louise couldn’t be sure if the light was dimmer. But the group seemed to radiate light.
She turned to Marcus. His hair flattening with sweat under his hat in the dark. The crowd suddenly swelling around their table. He looked at her, eyes large and black and glittering.
“Shit,” she said aloud. But what she meant to say was, I want to draw this.
Alejandro & Sebastian, DOS LOROS LOCOS
Pepe’s eyes rested on the man before him.
It had been some time.
When Alejandro had called, it was because he had seen the flyer. That Sebastian had made and posted on instagram.
Godbless that boy. He was bringing their notoriety back.
Alejandro embraced him, and the years fell away between them. The younger man pulled back, grinning. The same wolfish smile, curled lashes.
Alejandro would always be young.
“Pues quiubo parce,” he said.
His eyes looked manic.
Pepe smiled. “Quiubo, amigo mio.”
Of course Alejandro was doing fine. He always would be.
And Pepe was glad to see the boy that had approached him years ago, fire in his eyes, talking a mile a minute. “How you do that, man? Holy shit! How you do that man! You know my girl in love with you already, you wanna drink? Marica that last thing you did, I heard that once on my tio’s vinyl…”
Pepe had already been getting older then, but it was the first time he remembered that people didn’t just dance, they listened. For all his craziness, Alejandro lived to take, take take. Savor. He was wild with passion.
“Come on man,” he told Pepe now, moving a muscled arm out to point at the bar, “let me get you a drink.”
“Let me play first.”
And Pepe, as he always did, felt the jacket light over his shoulders, reached out to tap the mic once, listened to the sound ring out. Lifted his eyes to the room, smiled as a familiar peace rose up in him, and opened his mouth to sing.
The Crew & Alejandro, DOS LOROS LOCOS 8:15
Martina was laughing.
“What Marcus, never done cocaine before?” The sunset out the windows made everything sweet.
They were following Alejandro down the stairs, away from the sun twinkling out above them.
“Not here,” he muttered. He forgot that Martina was wild sometimes. He preferred to get stoned then go out, usually.
“Que no tengan miedo,” Alejandro called merrily.
They sat around a glossy varnished wood table.
Above them, stomping and music rattled the ceiling. Made the twinkle lights clink on the wall.
Alejandro was swinging Martina around the room. “Cocaina!” He called out. “La counter!”
He was so ridiculous. “You’re so ridiculous,” Martina told him.
And then Marcus was doing a line of cocaine, handing Louise his used bill.
And then they were cheering, and then they were rising. What had happened? Nothing had happened.
Marcus went to the bathroom.
“You ever danced salsa?” Martina asked Louise. Louise had magicked a notebook out from somewhere, leaving it open on the table like a dare.
Where the hell did Marcus go? He was such a shit friend sometimes. Spacey as hell.
Martina did not leave anyone behind.
Louise was shaking her head.
“Time to learn.”
Martina took her arm and they rose once again, heading up the stairs, this time instead of the bar, deep into the crowd. Turning to face her, Martina’s face appeared soft and yellow in the light, thin as a shell, almost translucent. They stood across from one another. In heels, Martina was taller.
Suddenly, the tables were very far away. The music swirled around them, the sharp scent tequila and sweat, lemon and sweet cologne, old cigarettes.
“Okay,” Martina said, while Louise desperately tried to keep her eyes off her chest, spilling out from her dress.
“It’s on four counts,” this woman in front of Louise was saying, her full lips parting as she moved. Hair grazing shoulders. An earring flashed.
“One-two-three-four.” Martina clapped, sashaying her hips.
Louise was very, very turned on.
Rosario & Sebastian, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 9pm
Sebastian raised the trumpet to his lips.
It was his solo, and therefore Rosario took the cue to take a break, pushing through to the bar.
“Que mas, hermosa,” he said, smiling, to the first woman.
She ignored him. Pointedly turned her curls to the person she was speaking to.
The woman next to her was wearing red.
Bullseye. He remembered one girl he had been with, telling him instructively: you only wear red if you’re trying to get laid.
“Un trago?” he asked.
She was older and had yellow teeth, but her hair was good, clean and shiny. She smiled, her eyes cracking at the sides. A smoker, he’d bet.
“Only if you’re paying.” Voice of a pura gringa.
He leaned in between the two women, the one facing him and the one facing away, the bulk of his body pressed against the bar.
He felt his sweat.
Dampening the underbelly above his belt, greasening the space where his arms slid over his sides.
Rosario realized that there was no one behind the counter.
In the same moment, he realized that people were helping themselves to the bottles that rested just below the counter, on the other side.
He reached over, inserting his hairy arm between them, fumbling to find the top of a bottle. His small eyes met the woman’s large ones, and he offered his own terrible smile.
“Guess we’ll have the bottle,” he said.
The woman’s eyes lifted, to something past his shoulder.
“For me, right,” came a voice behind him.
Rosario’s fingers closed around the bottle. He turned.
Behind him: a dark, impressive man.
“I married a beautiful woman, didn’t I,” the man said. A perfectly bald head.
Pepe always said he should just shave the rest of his hair off.
In the older days, Rosario would have swung the bottle up in a clean arc, smashed it across the man’s face. He would have leapt on him in an instant, they would have fallen, people immediately scattering, a scream, a shout, before winning the ownership of a woman, before concluding not in a spray of gratuitous kisses but slick, hot and heavy sex after the pretense of an argument in the parking lot, sometimes there in the car, or the closest motel, whatever they could find before the adrenaline wore off, before the blood dried on his clothes and he became just another drunk.
“Yo, man,” came a voice.
And there was Sebastian, calm and with his ever-present grin. “That’s my boyfriend, homie.” He nodded to Rosario, as Rosario’s mouth hung open.
“He usually just buys drinks for everyone.”
And Sebastian slung an arm around Rosario, kissing him on the cheek.
The big man laughed.
Sebastian was wearing a good cologne.
Was Pepe just singing by himself?
“Here, I’ll make drink,” Sebastian offered, removing his arm, sliding between them, somehow finding glasses behind the bar. Three.
The young man set them on the counter, continued talking. Was stirring. How did he know where everything was?
“You come out here a lot?” Sebastian asked the couple conversationally.
“We’re on our honeymoon, actually,” the woman with the yellow teeth answered.
“Oh, how’s married life treating you?”
Sebastian was getting married soon, Rosario remembered. That gelled-curl bitch with a kid in her belly, staring them down. Lemon green eyes.
The couple was looking at each other, something nameless passing between them.
“You’d be surprised by how much it changes you,” the woman says. Thoughtfully. Rosario had put thoughtfulness past her.
Their drinks clinked, Sebastian’s young eyes meeting his over the glasses.
“Gracias, amigo,” the man, who Rosario was starting to think looked like the Rock, nodded deeply.
Sebastian just sipped, smiling.
“We have a lot of work to do,” the man continued the woman’s response. “Fix up the house,” he lifted a hand in a gesture, dropped it. “All that.”
The woman’s face lit up for a moment.
“A lot to look forward to.”
Rosario looked between them, and realized how fundamentally the same they were. This wasn’t a young couple, but they, like Sebastian and his girl, were starting a life. One they would build together.
“Perdoname,” he muttered gruffly, excusing himself.
Suddenly he didn’t feel like hitting on anyone.
He pushed his way through to the back of the bar. A tiny white girl with breakable-looking arms and big-ass eyes was standing by the bathrooms.
She was wearing a goddamn turtleneck. Sleeves cut off, but still.
She was drawing.
“What are you drawing, miamor,” he asked. He wiped the sweat back from his forehead, spilling some of his glass on his shirt as he did so.
The girl looked up at him. Rosario had the sinking sense he looked like the disheveled, gross old man he felt. Coño. He probably needed another drink.
“You,” she answered.
She lowered her small notebook down.
Rosario craned his neck. She had drawn him in a moment of restrained outrage. A terribly ugly orange.
He almost laughed.
“Baby, I don’t look so scary,” he said, studying himself.
“I drew it fast,” she replied, by way of explanation.
“Couldn’t make me sexier?” he asked. He wiped sweat again. “Why’m I green?”
“The first rule about color theory is that color theory doesn’t exist,” she answered.
Rosario snorted. “I don’t know what it means.”
She looked at him then. “Tell me it doesn’t look like you.”
It unsettled him.
“Where’s your friends, muñeca? You don’t want to stand over here with an old man like me.” Rosario laughed. Partly to put her at ease, partly to put himself at ease.
She looked pointedly at him.
“Where’s your crew?”
In his mind’s eye, Rosario dumped his drink over the cunt, told the little shit off. He was running out of patience with people tonight.
But the truth was, Rosario had mellowed with age. He said nothing.
“You’re an amazing violin player,” the girl said, as flatly as before.
“Thank you,” he said, taken aback.
The girl leaned on the wall. She was pretty in that hard, skinny way.
All rib, no meat. Rosario had never been into it. Nothing to grab. To bite.
“I’m just waiting for my girl to get out of the bathroom. But I’m comfortable here, homie. Don’t mind being alone.” She looked at the room and he followed her gaze. “Like you. I have my art.”
Marcus & Alejandro, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 9:32pm
A smack on the back. Marcus almost choked on his drink, spurting it back into the glass. “Que mas,” he murmured clumsily, turning.
Alejandro stood behind him, grinning and glistening. Hands on his hips, silhouetted. The crowd around him. Towel over his shoulder.
“What you want, you want another drink?” the bar owner said gaily, hitting Marcus again, gripping his bicep.
Marcus stared at the man fuzzily. He swallowed the alcohol left in his mouth.
“Uh,” he said, squinting, raising the glass to eye level. Ice cubes.
He was about to inform Alejandro of this but Alejandro pushed the glass down.
Marcus hadn’t realized he was still holding it upraised.
“Estas enamorado, entonces?”
Marcus blinked. Across the room: Luisa, laughing, hand in her back pocket, a foot jutted out.
Alejandro followed his eye. “Marcu-sito!” he cried, the grin breaking afresh.
He pushed Marcus with two hands, steering him towards the bar. The corner opening Alejandro slipped through, the triangle of wood he stuck Marcus’ willowy frame behind.
“Shots, eh? Tequila?”
Alejandro was already bending down, whisking something, ignoring the outbreak of chatter, the crowded seats and shiny heads beaded with sweat.
“What happened with you two, hm?” Alejandro deposited two glasses down. Regular size.
Marcus set his empty glass on the bar, rocked on his heel to lean on the wall.
Alejandro ducked back down. “You know what,” he said, voice muffled, “I don’t wanna know. You know? What can you do about the past? Nothing, caballero! Nothing!”
Across the room, Martina was taking Louisa by her hips, showing her how to waggle them.
“I’ve liked that chick for five years,” Marcus announced, to no one.
Alejandro popped up.
“Tequila!” he yelled, a tan, well-shaped arm dumping the contents of the found bottle sloppily over the bar, splashing into the glass.
Marcus reached out for one, knocking the empty glass off the counter.
“Shit,” Marcus mumbled, stumbling forward. Remembered he started drinking around six.
Alejandro stopped his hand, grabbing his wrist.
Marcus looked at the fingers around his hand, then slowly up at Alejandro.
“Fuck the drink!” Alejandro roared, releasing him, leaning to pick up a stack of napkins and throwing them in the air.
The entire bar, middle-aged men and women on stools, cheered as the paper fell around them in a spray of makeshift confetti.
Marcus started to laugh. “Damn,” he said, coughing. “Cover blown.”
“Mmm?” Alejandro whipped around to face him, alert.
“Dude, your pupils,” Marcus couldn’t help blurt out. “Dilated as shit,” Marcus told him, in a kind of awe.
“La gringa?” Alejandro asked, now wiping the counter, as though nothing had passed, the chatter resuming, people playfully picking up the napkins. The built man leaned forward, his chest open and dark hair pressing out of the polo.
He hadn’t forgotten that Marcus had been staring at someone.
“Oh. Yeah.” Marcus was sipping again.
Across the room, Luisa spinning under Martina’s arm. “Five years.”
“Cinco?” Alejandro repeated, echoing him in Spanish. He crossed over to Marcus, their two bodies barred by the counter, Alejandro’s eyes widening, delight spreading across his features.
“No no, seriously, man. ”Marcus nodded towards Luisa, suddenly struck with the silly paranoia that all the attention in the bar was directed on them.
“Papo!” Alejandro cried, springing up, next to him, “What are you doing!”
Marcus realized, as if awakening from his drunk, that he had absolutely told the wrong person.
“Oh caballero!” Alejandro threw his hands down on Marcus’ shoulders, gripping them tightly. “Do you know I am the most romantic man in the world?” He inched closer, started to vigorously massage Marcus’ back.
Marcus wasn’t sure if he should be uncomfortable or aroused.
The sculpted man did not break his gaze, staring Marcus down and grinning at him.
Then Alejandro was kissing him.
Becky & Zoey, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 9:47pm
The good news was, most people were out of their seats.
She wondered why she wasn’t.
Blame Paul. But fuck Paul.
Zoey moved the little straw up in down in her glass, up and down.
Zoey noticed Becky lingering behind the bar, watching the girls dance.
“Don’t want to take a break?” she asked the girl, kindly.
“Oh,” Becky said, turning to look at her, as if interrupted from a daze. “I’m good.”
She continued to rub mindless circles in the counter.
Zoey noted that the other two girls were buzzing from customer to customer like butterflies slurping nectar. Flipping their hair, tilting their head back, mouths open, shining lips.
Actually. It seemed as though people were helping themselves to the alcohol past the bar, reaching out with casual, swinging arms.
What was the occasion for this ridiculous party?
Her birthday. Right.
“Honey,” Zoey interrupted the server once more, “What’s your name.”
Becky finally turned to the woman.
“Rebecca,” she said, changing her mind at the last minute.
Becky nodded. She sank down to her elbows, gazed out at the crowd.
Zoey sized the girl up. Awful hair. Awful. Cute nose. Pretty eyes. Okay eyebrows.
“How long you been working here, Rebecca?”
Becky swiveled her head, clearly irritated.
“You don’t want to dance.”
Becky laughed curtly.
“Actually, I hate this music.”
“Yeah,” Becky said.
Zoey leaned forward. “Why is that,” she asked, intrigued.
“I just like,” Becky threw the towel down. “Don’t always feel super Mexican, I don’t know.”
“Interstinnnggg,” Zoey murmured, eyes sparkling. “Well, you know, I love it. And I’m white as shit.” Zoey laughed.
“Should I like, be afraid I’m a poserrr?” she asked, leaning back.
Becky smiled a little.
“Can I tell you something,” Zoey said, zipping forward once more, almost conspiratorial. Her boobs pressed against the counter, she put an immaculate hand down flat, nails spread. In an exaggerated whisper: “It’s okay to be a poser” she told her. In a normal voice: “Posers are successful.”
Becky cocked her head, not understanding.
Man, Zoey thought, suddenly filled with pity, this girl has never manipulated anyone her whole life.
And then Zoey had an idea.
“What’s your favorite genre of music,” she asked Becky.
“Uh…90s hip hop.”
She didn’t need a good time. She had plenty of good times.
She stood up.
Popped a leg up on the stool.
Stood on the stool. Stepped a heel on the counter. Stood on the counter.
“Hey everyone,” she yelled, flipping hair behind her, a hand around her mouth as the bar begrudgingly looked up, “CAN WE WISH THE BIRTHDAY TO THE BIRTHDAY GIRLLLL!”
A series of cheers and hoots rose from the room, Becky’s eyes magnified and shining below.
“Get the fuck up here, girl,” Zoey said, pulling the girl up.
“THIS IS THE BIRTHDAY GIRL,” Zoey screamed, pointing at Becky.
Ohmygod, Becky thought.
And then there was cheering.
A shower of napkins suddenly exploded around them, and Zoey grinned at her, and Becky realized she might be with the coolest girl in Hollywood.
Zoey popped out her booty into a crouch. “I NEED SOME 90S HIP-HOP, STAT,” Zoey screamed at the bar.
She turned to Becky.
“DROP IT LOOWW!”
And Becky obeyed.
“You just need your moment, girl!” Zoey cheered, rising. She began to clap, bounding in her heels and forcing everyone to join, and then Becky was dancing.
“OKAYYYY!” Zoey screamed. “OKAYYY!”
And the crowd, in its slow echoing fashion, all the voices converging, “OKAYYY!”
And then the two other waitresses were on the bar, cheering for Becky and hugging her, and Zoey completed what she set out to do, which is what she did best, and clamored down, immensely satisfied.
Martina & Louise, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 9:33pm
“So you’re feeling weird about moving to LA?” Martina asked.
An old regular showed up in the doorway, slinking immediately to the corner. Martina reminded herself to go greet him. José, was he called? Jorgé?
“I mean.” Louise took her drink from the black-pony girl’s hand. She slid over a bill before Martina could recognize the transaction.
Martina never paid at this bar, but she didn’t stop her.
“This trip is kind of testing that out,” Louise explained, taking a sip.
Alejandro was missing from the bar. As were the two baristas.
She wondered if she should be worried. That was a lot of cocaine Alejandro had. Fuckin Alejandro.
“LA is lit,” she said to Louise, conversationally. “Come here babe.” With the hand not holding the drink, she took Louise’s skinny arm.
“Follow me, okay.”
Louise opened her mouth to ask for the steps, the instruction–then closed it.
Martina took a step back, pulling Louisa; she took a step forward.
Lead by example.
Martina deliberated bringing up Marcus, then decided against it.
“You do art, right?” If there was anything her exceptionally Hollywood career had taught her, it was that artists loved to be flattered.
She put arms around Louise’s neck.
Louise thought before answering. “Not as seriously as I’d like.”
Martina knew why Marcus liked her. It was obvious. She was thoughtful, like him.
Martina moved her hip back. Swish.
“Am I leading?” Louise asked.
“Hell yeah you are, girl.” Her eyes rested on the lonely waitress at the bar. “You talked to Becky?”
Louisa followed Martina’s nod toward the skinny, bleached-hair Mexican girl at the bar, who now turned to stare directly at them.
Louise shook her head. Step forward, back.
Martina’s eyes widened. “Ohhh, you don’t like her?”
It wasn’t an exclamation, more of a kind of discovery.
Louise scowled. Why was she leading? “She kind of…” Louise hunted for the words.
“Put your hand on my waist,” Martina instructed. “I’m doing this so you’re more assertive.” She winked.
“Oh,” Louise said, absorbing where she lay in Martina’s power dynamic.
She turned her a little more sharply.
Marcus, across the room, above Martina’s shoulder.
Louise sighed, defeated. “I was like that,” she confessed.
“What, you were a sad artsy girl working at a bar?”
“I was a sad artsy girl working at a bar,” Louise agreed.
“But you’re not a sad girl working at a bar,” Martina clarified, picking up the pace, giving a flourish. “Anymore.”
Martina smiled. “Also,” she added, lowering her voice. “it’s okay. If that’s you.”
Louise spun her beneath her arm. One, two, three, four.
“Definitely, like…don’t shit on people who remind you of yourself. That’s some unhealthy shit. If anything, help them grow.”
Louisa was silent.
Martina continued. “In New York…fuckin competitive out there.”
“There’s no competition here?” Louise said it with caution. Forward. Back.
“Let me put it this way: is it better to have sex, or a threesome?”
Martina laughed. They resumed.
“That’s the spirit. It’s more like…” she tried to sum up her experiences in the film industry. “The more you have to work with, the more complete and vivid the project. Feel me? Collaboration is key.”
Louise nodded like it was something that she understood, sliding her hand down Martina’s hip. She didn’t know. Hated working with people, actually.
“You need to stick together.” Martina concluded, looking back at Becky, who did certainly appear like a younger version of Louise. Too bad all her interns were fake wannabes from Texas. She would have killed to have someone who was like her. Becky was now talking to Zoey.
Fuck. Martina forgot about Zoey. Whose birthday it was.
“She’s kind of young, isn’t she?”
Martina turned back around. Swish. “I guess, yeah. Probably someone’s niece or cousin or something.”
“What, you feel old?”
“No,” Louise lied, the party in full swing making her nervous as hell.
“You’re not old,” Martina was saying, as Louise watched Alejandro across the room swoop down onto Marcus, keeping his hands fastened on the buttons of Marcus’ shirt.
“Thinking you’re old will make you that way, though.”
And suddenly, they heard Zoey yelling.
The birthday girl was on the table. So was the waitress.
And now there were napkins, falling all over the room like large, lazy confetti.
Martina cheered, looking up, grinning. Shadows falling under her long lashes. Then she broke away from it, facing Louise, smiling.
Louise decided, flippantly, that she would like to feel young.
Louisa leaned forward, pulling Martina’s hips into hers, and closed her eyes.
Yenny & the Girls, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 9:40pm
Jenny hoisted herself up on the table, one palm cupping the child. A boy, she reminded herself. She got so tired of standing now.
Jenny had wanted a girl.
Someone she could train, like her, who wasn’t raised by boys, brothers and kids in the neighborhood.
But she would have a boy, and she felt him rolling in there, looking out at the sea of men.
Maybe this was better. Raise the boy right, to not raise his fists, instead of raising a girl to talk boys out of theirs.
She felt tired, all of a sudden, watching the scene unfurl around her.
There was Pepe, an infinite light, glowing and glowing, his tiny arms lifting open, his eyes closed. His voice, a holy thing.
The people, in an unruly wave, tiny chops of color, sweaty bald heads, lush waves of hair, the instantly recognizable spikes of red lips.
And here she was, sitting on top of a table, in the sill of a window, actually, her feet propped up, in flip flops, watching. Just as she had been when they first met.
She watched her fiance, how he managed the drums.
She smiled despite herself. She knew the flat of his palm well.
Two girls sat down at the table, and she felt herself prickle.
Not into being disturbed.
But it wasn’t her whole table, anyway. They were doing nothing wrong.
She tried to be sympathetic.
The girls started to talk to each other.
She couldn’t help but overhear.
“I think I’m going to move.”
You don’t need her, Jenny thought.
“I don’t know,” and the other girl looked down, at her hands.
Maybe you need her, Jenny thought.
Then she realized she should probably mind her own business.
But the two girls looked like sisters.
The other continued to look at her nails.
“Are you sisters?” Jenny interrupted.
The two girls looked up at her.
Discreetly, Jenny pushed together her knees.
She had been hot. Once. Still was.
“No,” one said, slowly.
“Where are you from?” asked the other.
And this was a question Jenny would not answer. She assumed these girls were Mexican, but was not willing to test these sort of…secret country allegiances. She knew her country did not get along well with most.
“So, you’re leaving,” Jenny said instead, as if to bridge back the conversation.
She could see the differences between them, now. If she took the effort to study them closely.
“I’m kind of…”
“She’s bored,” her friend clarified.
Same thing, Jenny thought.
“How old, do you think I am?” she asked them.
The girls were silent.
“Go dance,” she told them.
Personally she never understood wanderlust. They had the whole world here. LA, city of dreams and beaches and mountains. What else could you want? It was beautiful.
Commanding them had not been the right move.
The girls had turned to away to look at the crowded dance floor, had turned back to awkwardly look at their drinks, each other, the regal woman perched in front of them.
Jenny considered leaning back and watching the show over their heads in silence.
“How old are you,” she asked, instead, when it became apparent that they were not going to leave nor were they going to talk.
“Twenty-seven,” said one.
“Twenty-eight,” said the other.
They were lying.
Jenny smiled. “That’s my age,” Jenny said.
The girls continued gazing at her. It was difficult to see if they thought this was too young or too old.
“You think that’s young?”
One girl shrugged.
“Had friends who got pregnant younger,” she offered.
Jenny nodded. So did she. She looked at the two girls. Age had been the wrong question.
“What are your names,” she asked.
“Bianca,” said the one with the low ponytail.
“Mariah,” said one with the high ponytail.
“I’ve had an abortion before,” she told them. “I had many kids before I actually wanted them.”
Bianca looked at Mariah. Mariah was the one who had wanted to move.
“Why’d you give them up,” Bianca asked.
And immediately Jenny knew how Bianca was raised.
“I wanted to live my life before giving it to someone else.”
She answered without thinking.
That was it. That was exactly why.
“Like…to your kid?” Mariah asked. Her voice was lower than Bianca’s.
“Yeah because it’s not…it won’t be mine anymore.” Jenny felt a peace come over her as she said it, her hands instinctively cupping beneath her belly.
“Or your husband’s,” Bianca suggested.
Jenny smiled. “The love I have for Sebastian doesn’t come out of the love I have for my kid.”
Both girls blinked.
She tried to come up with an analogy. It wasn’t like that, she knew. Amazing how girls thought that, that marrying was the same as having a child, that having a child was like marrying.
“Love isn’t like a…water source that depletes with each new person you add on,” she said. A few faces flickered in Jenny’s mind. Friends of hers, beautiful women reduced to shells of themselves. “It shouldn’t be.”
Jenny cocked her head as if to point.
“That’s him,” she said. “My finance.”
The girls turned to watch Sebastian, now completely immersed in flow. His broad shoulders moving beneath his shirt, his head shaking, the curls in the bun atop his head moving too. His arms and hands beating out different rhythms. That was the first thing he taught her about drumming, how it meant you had to seperate your hands, how they had to do different things at once.
The girls turned back in a kind of awe. A new respect.
It was true, Jenny thought, looking at him. He was a handsome man. A talented, strong man.
“C’mon,” she said, jutting out her chin, shifting her legs to prop herself up better. “Go dance. You’re not old like me, not yet.”
Bianca laughed, put up her hands in surrender. “All right, jesus.” And Mariah was already turning, and they linked arms.
Jenny looked again back at the man on the drums, mouth open in a full grin, leaning back, his eyes closed.
And she felt a rush of pride. Her husband.
She touched her stomach. The thing they had made.
Jenny realized that talking to those girls was her first experience in mothering.
Paul & Louise, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 10:10pm
“So what, you’re not going to kiss her?”
Louise had turned her attention from the bar where Marcus was getting drinks, was looking up at Paul.
They had acted as though nothing had happened.
Louise was probably hot, Paul was thinking, in that anorexic smoker New York kind of way. Minimal make-up, all black everything shit.
“Who, Zoey?” Paul felt like leaning back onto the wall, but there wasn’t any. He planted his feet firmly apart, slid a hand into his pocket.
Louise eyed him evenly.
“Yeah, I hear you have a thing for white girls.”
Paul snorted. What the fuck, Marcus.
“Sorry babe, not into your bony ass.”
“Zoey doesn’t have a bony ass.”
Louise continued to stare. She was drunk, he realized. “She’s all ass.”
“Yo girl,” Paul said, tightening, “you need to mind your fuckin’ business.”
Quit grilling me, he wanted to add, but he wasn’t about to be labeled some hood asshole. Had enough of that.
“Yeah well,” she shrugged, her eyes suddenly becoming big in mock obviousness, “You need to not be a fuckin dick.”
Paul was not about to lose his chill right now.
“S’cuse me, you can go, Louise. I’m just here supporting my mans. You wanna tell me why you’re here?”
“The same,” she replied.
“So New York was no good to you,” he interrupted before she elaborated, “you just come up all in here, LA will take you and, your fuckin art? That sort of shit?”
He sipped. He knew this girl. He knew dozens of these girls.
“Why you mad?”
Whether the liquor had made her plucky or not, she seemed unfazed.
This would only piss him off.
“Yo, for real,” he said, irritated, “why the fuck are you even here, girl? Like,” Paul nodded out to the crowd. “No disrespect,” he had the foresight to add, “but this ain’t ya scene.”
“I don’t have a scene,” Louise deadpanned.
“Oh, aiite.” He wiped his mouth on his shoulder. “I get it now.”
Poor girl wanted a goddamn family. Jesus, Marcus.
He felt rosier just then, having figured this out. She was fine. Fine, fine.
“Zoey likes you,” she said abruptly. “Okay? Don’t be a dick, and stop acting like you’re not into it.”
“You drunk?” he asked her, only because he could think of no other response.
“Sober as shit,” she slurred. “You’re not that tough, homie.”
“Bro,” Louisa said, laughing, cutting him off, turning away as Martina approached, making her way through the crowd. “Chill the fuck out.”
Ximena & Pepe, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 11:15pm
Ximena decided it was now time to talk to Louise.
Listen, you’re going to wreck Marcus. This was the first thought she had. They were totally different, she didn’t get his attraction at all. Ximena already knew what she was going to say, and she was pushing her way through–
But then Martina slid her hands up Louise’s shirt.
Martina could do whatever she wanted. That was the unfortunate truth.
Ximena gave up on being a hero. She turned.
Who here was attractive?
Fuck em. Old hairy men, not in the mood.
Obviously, always, whenever in doubt: bar.
Where the fuck was Alejandro?
She was getting hit on and getting drunk when the singer approached her favorite seat. Pepe?
“Pepe?” she asked.
He was a handsome man, a skinny gay one. Old.
“Que mas, miamor,” he said graciously.
“What are you drinking.”
“I think,” Pepe responded, instead of answering her, “that half the men here are in love with you.”
Ximena decided to smile.
“Obvio,” she said, the smooth Os dangling from her lips.
“So this is your kingdom,” he asked her, with a gesture.
Pepe saw her looking at the bar. Alcoholica, if Alejandro had anything to do with it.
He pushed the drink he was holding, reached over the bar to grab his own.
His fingers found a bottle, he lifted it up.
He had to stop himself from laughing when he saw the label. Set it between them.
Ximena watched this without saying a word.
“It’s not really a kingdom,” she said.
“Playground?” he offered.
“Are you happy with where you are in life?”
Pepe kept his cool as he put the bottle down from his mouth, although it was difficult.
These were times when the sting of liquor was poignant, delicious, pertinent, absolutely necessary.
“You are unhappy?”
Ximena’s lip curled. A smirk. “Pepe, baby,” she said, more comfortable with the small gay man in the pink shirt, placing her warm hand on his tiny knee, “Papi, no estas answering my question.”
Pepe looked at the girl in front of him, the clear safekeeper of the place. Her infinitely dark black hair, the exotic eyes and shape that hardened at the corners, the swift curves of her body. She had these men at her feet, in a different way then the Italian one that Alejandro was so fond of. He didn’t know her but he knew she was born here, from here. Fucked them all, fought them all, owned them all.
Tough as tits.
“I am okay,” he answered, folding the edge of a napkin down over his thumb, luxuriating in the time he took to make his response.
“Tell me more.” Instead of picking up the drink he had generously gifted her, she pulled from his bottle, reaching across them both, sitting it snugly in her knees. Thighs.
“I was married, once,” he told her.
“Oh yeah?” She drank again, lips closing around the mouth of the bottle, gaze never leaving his. When she swallowed: “But you’re gay, right?”
“You know, this is my freedom,” he said, ignoring her. “I don’t really have a kingdom.”
“I don’t really have…” But Ximena stopped.
They knew it in an instant: they were the same.
But Pepe continued, just so he could be sure.
“I left my wife in a very…” he tilted his head back and forth, lifted his hand, dropped it halfway. “Rude way,” he finished. “I lead a fine life, and didn’t like it. So.”
“So,” she echoed.
“I had affairs,” he nodded. “I was always getting laid,” he smiled. “If you’re concerned.”
“I’m not,” she said flatly.
“You need to find a reason to live, you know, bebe? And I did.”
“Mmm,” she grunted, bored now.
“Listen Mami,” he said, also losing interest in the extreme mundanity and task of conversation with others, “you have something to live for.” He waved out at the party. “This is it. You’re a king.”
And he got up, because now he wanted to sing, and women made him nervous, always had.
Paul & Zoey, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 11:33pm
There was Paul.
Big, clumsy Paul. No hat. New braids, she noticed. Tight and glossy.
“So I guess I gotta come to you now, huh?” He was smiling, lumbering closer. Came up to the bar, close enough to smell his cologne.
Zoey cocked her head flirtatiously, a giddy nervousness striking up all the right chords. Finally.
“I’m the birthday girl,” she said softly.
“Okay, princess. Can I get you a drink?” He grinned.
“Is this because…” she paused, twirling the abandoned plastic umbrella in her fingers. “It’s my birthday, or because I’m a cute white girl?”
“Yoooo,” he exclaimed, pulling back. “Looaaded question.”
Zoey smiled. “I won’t be mad at either answer, honestly.” Her face softened.
Paul looked relieved.
“Yo, I swear,” he began, now leaning an elbow on the counter and shaking his head. “I just had this fucking conversation–” he stopped himself, as if trying to gauge the best move. “That Louise chick kind of put me in my place.”
“About white girls?” she asked curiously.
“About white girls.”
“So…you’re into them?” Zoey cocked her head again, perked up like a dog.
He laughed. “Yeah. Guess so.”
“You can objectify me,” she told him.
“You wanna…” he stumbled. “Objectify me? Brown kid?” He flashed her a smile.
“Duh. We can objectify each other,” she conceded. “That’s really the only way this will work.”
“I mean,” he said, shrugging affably, “the way I see it, you’re hot, I’m hot, so.”
He was perfect.
“I can put you in line,” Zoey offered. “If that’s your kink.” And she was smiling again, her eyes glittering. Pushed away her blonde hair.
Paul sucked in a breath. “Damn girl. Goin for gold, aren’t we.” He rubbed a thumb up and down the glass, smoothening a patch of condensation into clarity.
He was nervous, she realized.
Like Becky. And Zoey bit back a smile, studying the man in front of her.
His big shape, the sweat beading up on his forehead. He seemed a little uncomfortable in the pressed collared shirt he was wearing. Tight in the right places; a crisp white, the sweat showing through in dampening patches. Little pelicans.
“Can you just,” she said, smiling, touching the edge of his sleeve, “take your shirt off, please?”
Martina, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 12:15pm
The tall, dark man approaching them stopped.
“The fuck, Martina,” he said loudly. Loudly enough for heads to turn.
“Fuck you, Jarrod,” she said cooly.
At the moment, she was kissing a man who worked at the Tesla warehouse.
Jarrod’s face didn’t move. His jaw was steady, he worked the bones in his wrists. The light across him erased any sinister shadows. He wasn’t angry. Hurt. Wounded, even.
And suddenly she realized she did not want to fight.
“I can kiss whoever the fuck,” she answered. She said it loudly. For everyone.
She was thinking of Louise. She was thinking about Zoey. She was thinking about the men and women she had kissed.
Normally, this kind of thinking was reserved for hangovers.
But he started it. Showing up, ruining it.
Something unstoppable gathered in her chest. Her vision was foggy. “You don’t own shit.”
And the last epiphany of the night finally popped in Martina’s head.
“I don’t need to please anyone.”
In the dim light, her lipstick shone.
She turned, instead of kissing the man, to find Zoey.
“Let’s hit a joint,” she suggested. And Zoey disentangled herself from Paul, because Martina was her best friend.
The two powerful women left the bar.
The Introverts, DOS LOROS LOCOS, 3am
“No more cocaine?” Becky was raising an eyebrow.
They were in the basement again.
“Fuck it,” she decided, lowering down, following the white line along the table as it vanished.
Marcus felt his dick harden and shifted.
At some point, he had lost track of everyone.
“I am going to paint this,” Louise whispered. All of a sudden her hands were on his dick.
This was a lot, Marcus thought. Jesus.
“I’m going to paint this whole room,” she declared more loudly, and then bit his ear.
“Mm,” he said, turning to look at her. She grinned at him, her pale face bright in the dark. He took it, cupping both her ears. She laughed.
“You’re really good-looking you know that?” he told her, looking at her blearily. Louise laughed again.
“What kind of half-assed compliment is that?”
“I think I’m drunk,” Marcus mumbled.
And then Louise pulled him to her, and he felt her small, perky nipples against his chest. No bra.
He heard somebody laughing, the lights being turned out, giggles up the stairs.
He slid his hand up her shirt, and they began to kiss.
DOS LOROS LOCOS, 3:45am
“I feel like,” Becky told Ximena, giggling, “Everyone just–just bloomed!” Her voice was slippery and filled with awe. “Except Alejandro.”
“Oh, no,” Ximena said, laughing. She hugged the little girl into her boobs. “Alejandro? He’s just crazy.”
And on stage the man in the orange jacket swayed, bending his small elbows, his face hidden under his curls as he moved. His smooth voice sang and sang and sang, as though filling a balloon, the room becoming bigger and bigger, brighter and brighter, swelling full, lifted up, up up, away and full of light.
And the women danced, and the men danced, sweating and drinking, sweating and drinking. One-two-three-four, swish.
Neither Becky nor Ximena knew were Alejandro was. Nor did they care. They didn’t need him.
Later, the drawing Louise sent, express mail, after returning to that dark, wet city, glided down the street on Marcus’ back, passed on Ximena’s painted fingers and kissed with Alejandro’s puckered lips, was hung, carefully, on the wall by Becky one sleepy afternoon. Her friends Bianca and Mariah twisting their hands below it, the sound of ice shaking in a metal canister, the old movies playing in kenton chrome. Couples in old pairs tripping in, sweat causing their faces to shimmer. And salsa, of course, playing overhead, bright, brassy notes of trumpet calling strangers in off the street.