DEIRDRE CLARKE stepped out of her apartment into the hot Los Angeles sun; dusk had fallen, but the temperature still sat near 100 degrees. Deirdre was already running late for her gig, so the sight of her ex-boyfriend Carl standing by her car irritated her even more than usual. She stomped down the single flight of stairs and greeted him with hostility.
“I’m late. What the hell do you want?” Deirdre demanded.
“Can’t a man just stop by to see his best girl?” Carl smiled. His green eyes complimented his mocha skin and for a moment Deirdre forgot why she’d put up with his shit for so long. Then she remembered why she’d stopped.
“I guess you’d better go see her then,” she said roughly. “And let me be on my way.”
“Dee… you know I’m talking about you.”
“I’m not your girl no more,” she answered, “and I’ve got somewhere to be.”
“Don’t be mad, Dee I just came here to check on you… you alright? What about D’Angelo? You two need anything? You got rent covered?”
Deirdre’s blood boiled and she met his eyes with a defiant stare. “I don’t need a damn thing from you. D’Angelo and I are not your business anymore.” Deirdre had been responsible for her younger brother since their mother had gone to prison. D’Angelo was one of the reasons she’d known she had to get away from Carl in the first place. The last thing she wanted was for her brother to see her thug ex-boyfriend as a role model.
“When are you going to understand that you can’t buy your way back here?” She glared at him.
“Deirdre, we were together almost our whole lives. I love you. But I’m not trying to buy my way back. I have a business proposition for you.”
“I don’t need a job, I have two,” she snapped, trying to open her car door. Carl blocked her way.
“Its easy money Dee… you wouldn’t even know it was here.”
“Ah, I see. You think I’ll hide drugs or hot shit for you, after all of the hell you put me through? You think I’d take that risk for you and your ‘boys’?” She snorted back at him.
“It’s just herb, Dee… it’s practically legal. And I don’t know why you’re so pissed at me. Nothing that went down was my FAULT!”
“Our windows were SHOT OUT, Carl. You can stand there all you want and claim it was a random drive-by, swear it wasn’t personal, but I’m not a moron! You think I didn’t know you’d fallen in with Derrick and his thugs? You think I believed your lies about where all the money was coming from? I KNEW what you were doing, and you just denied, denied, denied. Until our home was shot up… with my brother inside. Take your shit and get out of my face.” Deirdre shoved him out of the way of her car and escaped inside. She checked her face in the rearview mirror, and then prayed she’d have time to fix her make-up before she had to go onstage.
She stood on stage, in her element. As Lou played along on the black grand piano, Deirdre let all of her emotions flow out to the music. The small crowd gave her their undivided attention as she belted out Trouble, Stormy Weather, and Summertime. Her white, full length gown stood in stark contrast to the milk-chocolate color of her skin.
Deirdre couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t love to sing. When she was still a young girl, before her father left, her family went to church every Sunday. She loved listening to the soloists in the choir and dreamed of one day standing next to them. But they’d stopped going to church once her father was gone. When D’Angelo was born, Deirdre had tried to get her mother to go back, but she’d refused; D’Angelo’s father was against the idea. But soon, he was gone too. Looking back, Deirdre was sure that was when her mother started using drugs, though she didn’t realize what was happening at the time. Three years ago, right after Deirdre graduated from high-school, Pauline Clarke had been busted and sentenced to twenty years in a federal prison. Deirdre became D’Angelo’s legal guardian, though in all honesty she’d raised him since he was born.
D’Angelo was a good kid, especially considering everything he’d been through. And he was the reason Deirdre hadn’t fallen into the same kind of traps the other girls in her neighborhood had found themselves in. She hadn’t had any kids, she hadn’t gotten messed up on drugs, and she didn’t take her clothes off for money. Instead, Deirdre worked as a hotel maid and took college courses online. She’d have loved to go to school on an actual campus, but she couldn’t afford childcare for D’Angelo and she refused to turn him into a latchkey kid at eight years old. Deirdre worked while he was at school, and then after dinner they did their homework together.
Thursday nights were different. Those nights were all for Deirdre. She had a standing gig at Fuseli’s, an upscale jazz club in the Hollywood foothills. The gig paid just enough for Deirdre to afford her stage-clothes, but she didn’t do it for the money.
When she finished her last set, Deirdre took a seat at the bar and ordered herself a beer and a sandwich. As the bartender walked towards the tap, a tall, broad stranger signaled his attention. When he returned to Deirdre, he carried a martini with her draft.
“Dee, a kind gentleman asked me to bring you this and wondered if you’d mind some company?”
Deirdre looked up at Steve and sighed. After her encounter with Carl, she was in no mood to put up with anyone’s advances. “Tell him thank you, but I can’t possibly accept.”
“I don’t know… this one’s pretty hot, Dee… he’s the one down there, in the suit.”
“Really Steve, I’m not up for it right now.”
“Alright, fine…” he answered in a disapproving, sing-song voice.
Deirdre thought the issue was dealt with as she watched Steve approach the end of the bar to deliver the message. The gorgeous blonde man took the martini, rose, and headed Deirdre’s way.
“I’m sorry,” she began as he approached, frustrated that he wouldn’t take a hint.
“No, I’m sorry.” He smiled. “Your friend told me you’ve had a bad day. You sang beautifully… I sent this as a token of my appreciation, nothing more,” he explained, raising the drink. “Why don’t you enjoy it? It might make you feel better. Or I could buy you something else, if you’d prefer? Right before I return to my seat, of course.”