2. Be a Good Lass
Two Weeks Earlier, Los Angeles, CA
“Come on Bev, sweetie, we gotta go.” I urged her gently but I was this close to freaking out. I felt physically ill with worry she would miss what could be her last chance to put her life back together. Beverly Ayers was my best friend. We bonded the very first day we met when we started at the Sunset-Gower Starbucks in Hollywood. I had been in LA two weeks. We took our first break together, standing on the edge of the apron in front of the store, by the end closest to the dumpster, smoking.
She had only been in Los Angeles for six months but, to me, that practically made her a native. Bev, like me and everyone else, came to LA to work in entertainment. When she got the job at Starbucks, she had just been fired by an aging starlet who’d taken her on as a personal assistant. She had been hired because she had an honest face, which, the actress had attributed to her being from Ohio. She got fired for an honest tongue and a faulty internal editor. Beverly Ayers had not mastered the art of keeping her opinion to herself.
“Hey, I’m from Ohio, too! From Cleveland!” I said.
“Where are you from? East side or West Side?”
As it turned out, we had both grown up on the East Side, about thirty minutes from each other and actually had a few mutual acquaintances.
For a while we were even roommates but, she was too messy and had so many friends who wanted to come over all the time, I had to move out. Beverly likes to be in the middle of everything. I like to be slightly off to the side so I can observe and, as my mother says, make snarky comments.
You could ask Bev her honest opinion—on a writing piece you’d been working on or an outfit for a night out and she’d give you the truth. If she considered you a friend, she’d preface her frank response with a compliment or a hug. Our manager at Starbucks used to coach us the same way. “Jennifer, I love how you’re engaging the customers! You make eye contact and that is great. Now, let’s work on side tasks.”
Having learned from experience, I never asked for Bev’s opinion unless I really wanted it. One time I had off-handedly asked her about a new guy I was seeing from our improv class. Bev and I were at work and he had just texted me something cute like, “Let’s get together tonight and yes and. My place.”
“He’s so funny, isn’t he?” It was really more of a rhetorical statement. However, Bev, who’d probably been bursting to tell me what she really thought for weeks, snapped up the opportunity.
She dropped the dairy inventory she’d been checking in and threw her arms around me. “He is a sharp dresser and has a nice ass so good job on that,” she said. “But, I think he is the worst improviser ever. He takes himself too seriously and he quit Level One because he doesn’t get along with Craig. Who doesn’t get along with Craig?”
“Hey Bev, don’t hold back, tell me how you really feel,” I said. I was mad at her for I think, maybe 45 minutes. By the end of my shift I forgave what I considered to be unsolicited bluntness and realized she was right.
She reminded me of the time I pointed out to him a bit of mustard on his idiotic soul patch and how he sulked for the rest of the night. He did turn out to be a jerk and our fling was short-lived. Bev was usually right about men.
“Bev,” I said. I felt like having a cigarette as I waited for Bev to answer, even though I’d quit five years ago.
I was standing in her bedroom. The walls were mostly bare except for a few expansive, angry-looking canvases. I recognized the signature on one of them.
The rocker turned painter who’d done the piece had become a big seller at his last gallery show, in part thanks to Bev’s skillfully-written feature in Rolling Stone.
The silk curtains were closed and the late-morning sun made the red fabric look like it was burning. If the room had been at least a little tidy the effect would have been sultry instead of tawdry.
The large room was simply revolting; saucers overflowing with crushed-out lipstick-stained Marlboro Reds, dirty glasses, knocked-over nearly-empty bottles of red wine with the dregs still oozing onto the cream-colored carpeting, grease-stained pizza boxes. A mirror on the coffee table still held residue of some illicit substance. I didn’t even want to guess.
In the corner closest to me, where I stood waiting for Bev outside the door of her master-bath, there was a heap of turquoise bath-towels that had been used to soak up God-knows-what. The room smelled awful.
Literally, it smelled like poop. I gingerly stepped away from the pile and tried the door. It was unlocked.
“Bev?” I stepped over the threshold with my eyes averted to try to give her a little privacy and, to avoid accidentally seeing anything else too disgusting. “I’m coming in, okay?” There were more towels on the travertine floor, this time laid out around the toilet. I turned to the right. Bev was standing at the sink, looking at herself in the vast mirror that ran the length of the granite vanity. Three empty prescription bottles lay at the edge of the basin. “Shit, Bev!”
I rushed over to her.
“Calm down, Jenn, I flushed them!”
I stopped and then conceded a step, giving her space. Our eyes met in the mirror.
“Sorry,” I said.
She glared down at the sink, her jaw clenched. After a beat, she looked up at her own reflection and twisted up her face into a grotesque mask. She spoke as though she were missing a chunk of her tongue.
“Would you still be my friend if I looked like this?” She held that face for a long beat. Then, she folded at the knees and dropped onto the thick rug. The effort it took to cut the tension sapped the last of her reserves.
I sank down and wrapped her in my arms and tried not to gasp at how thin she’d gotten. I held her, patting her softly as she sobbed. We stayed like that for a while as she apologized over and over for the past year.
Finally, the crying stopped and she took a deep breath and stood up slowly. “Fuck, I ache all over. I’m a mess,“ she said. She took a deep breath. “Please tell me my father left?”
“He’s gone. Charlie took him to the airport.” I looked at my Blackberry. “He should be boarding now.”
She went to the linen closet and pulled out her monogrammed toiletry kit, the one I’d ordered from L.L. Bean for her nine years ago. She began to haphazardly pack it, seemingly with whatever was handy. I grabbed her toothbrush from the cup on the counter and threw it in for her, along with toothpaste & floss.
“If you forget anything, or if you need anything, have them call me and I’ll bring it up for you, okay?”
I knew she wouldn’t be able to contact me or anyone else for at least the next two weeks.
“Thanks for the floss, I’m sure oral hygiene will top my list of priorities.”
We moved into the bedroom and I grabbed the track suit I’d brought over for her from my apartment. I handed her the tank top and new undies I’d stopped to buy on the way. Laundry, I knew, had been very low on her to-do list in the last few weeks of non-stop partying. The housekeeper had been gone for months. I didn’t even bother bringing a bra since Beverly almost never wore one unless it was absolutely necessary. I had always envied her small bosom. The world would never be ready for me bra-less in a tank.
“Aw, you got me Fruit of the Loom?” she said. “Granny Panties. Appropriately humbling, considering.” s
We both looked at the wrinkled and grimy little black dress that she’d vomited on and passed out in, now wadded up at her feet. She sighed and pulled on the undershirt.
I propped myself up with the doorway leading to the rest of the house. I was exhausted. The last week had been horrible; sleepless nights, worry and frustration had eroded my naturally cheery disposition. Her assistant Charlie, her dad Bill and I had spent the last week waiting for Bev to realize she had hit bottom. Either she’d figure it out or we’d get a call saying she was dead.
“I’ll come for the family and friend make-amends day thing too if you want me.” I said. She laughed a bit with me like she’d been following my train of thought. This was not our first time at the rodeo, as they say.
“What the hell, third times a charm,” Bev said. We passed around the tissue box after her dad finished reading his letter.
“Yes, daddy, I will accept this help today. I will begin my journey to wellness right now,” she said as she rolled her eyes. Then she turned to her Dad and hugged him tightly and whispered something to him. She pressed her face into his neck. He started crying all over again.
“I love you, baby. You have to get better, we’re a team, remember?” he said. That got us all going again. Bev’s mother died when Bev was twelve. He had never re-married.
Thank God for Charlie. He got up from his seat on the raised hearth of the stone fireplace and took charge.
“Alright, Mr. Bill, you and your sweet baby-girl say your goodbyes now, or else you are going to miss your flight, sir.”
Somehow he disentangled Bev from her dad and got them both off the low leather sectional.
“And, you are going to miss your wagon!” he said to Bev.
Jesus, I thought. I checked the time. That was only an hour ago. This was shaping up to be the longest day ever.
“So,” I said, “that should be in four weeks--” I pulled out my Blackberry to check the date. “Ok, so, tomorrow is August 2nd… so like, around September 17th, which is a Friday, ok?” I began to enter the date in as an appointment. I looked up at Bev for a response only to see her holding both hands up with her palms pressed to her pasty forehead.
I was alarmed. “Are you okay?”
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!” she said.
“Oh my God, crap, crap, crap, fuck!”
“My career is over,” she said. “I have so fucked this up. Crap! Shit, fuck, damn!” She sprinted past me, pulling up her sweats as she went.
I followed Bev into her office. More ash-trays, several half drunken mugs of moldy black coffee, piles of mail, newspapers and post-its covered her desk.
As she started to paw through the rubble, I quickly took up the cups and moved them before they could spill.
“What are you looking for?”
“My calendar!” she said. “Charlie!”
“He’s at the airport, plus, you fired him two months ago so I doubt he’d be much help with your schedule.”
“Fuck!” She sat down on the swivel chair. Again she put her palms to her forehead, this time scrubbing her face as though she were trying to unearth something from inside her skull.
“Bev, please tell me what’s going on so I can help you.”
“I am pretty sure I am supposed to be in Edinburgh tomorrow.”