Authors: Pepper Pace
Jackson Monroe took one look at Vanessa and said no.
“But you haven’t even heard her sing-“ Charisma began.
“She’s too skinny.” Jackson was sitting behind a desk that seemed more of a prop then something that he actually used. Vanessa placed her hands on her hips. His words confirmed that this gig was about sex and not about talent. She was about to ask him if all it took to get a job was a big ass and big titties because she could buy those. Instead Charisma spoke up for her.
“Vanessa might be skinny-“ Vanessa gave her friend a sharp look, “but you can’t deny that she’s a knock-out. And not only is she a knock-out but she can sing. No she can SANGGG!
Jackson was smoking a cigar the way men who thought they looked important did. Vanessa watched him wanting to both turn her nose up at him and walk out with her talent and beg for the job that would help her take care of her and her son. She decided on the latter.
“Mr. Monroe I can sing and I can dance. I graduated from the School of Performing Arts.”
Jackson raised a brow. “Where you from, girl? You talk country.”
Vanessa wanted to tell him that he talked stupid but didn’t.
“I’m from Cincinnati.”
“Midwest girl.” His eyes moved up and down her body. It didn’t give her the creeps because he didn’t seem to be impressed. But then his eyes settled on her face and lingered there.
“Alright. Sing something. You got thirty seconds.”
Vanessa’s mouth parted. “Here?”
Jackson looked at his watch. “Twenty-eight seconds.”
Her vocal chords suddenly began to work and A Change is Gonna Come drifted out into the room.
She hadn’t gotten two words out of her mouth before Jackson’s eyes widened and he removed the cigar from his mouth.
Vanessa knew that she sang in a voice that was deep and true and what others might consider older than someone her age should ever be able to manage. In that moment Vanessa sang as if she was bringing church to the club and when she finished the song Jackson whispered four words.
“You got the job.”
“How much did you say it paid?” Charisma asked with a smile.
Some performers might not think fifty-thousand dollars a year was anything grand but to nineteen year old Vanessa it meant independence and the means to take care of Crash.
“Thank you so much Mr. Monroe!”
“Come back tomorrow and we’ll get all the paper work taken care of-“
Charisma and Vanessa looked at each other and Charisma plastered on a big smile.
“Vanessa’s only nineteen.”
Jackson’s eye began to twitch. “What?!” he roared and came to his feet. “What the hell is she doing in my place? Don’t you know that I could lose my liquor license with her in here?! And for that matter, how old are you?”
Charisma gave him an innocent look. “It’s no big deal. You can pay her off the books.”
Jackson’s dark skin seemed to darken even more. “What makes you think I would risk my club for a nineteen year old?”
This time Vanessa spoke up. “You wouldn’t be risking your club, Mr. Monroe. I need a job and I will be an asset to your club!”
“Both of you get out.” He replied.
She stared at Jackson in disbelief. His face was hard and unyielding. “Mr. Monroe I have a baby—a little boy. He was born with special needs.” Her voice began to crack and her eyes welled with tears. “He’s only six months old but he needs a specialist and the state won’t pay for it. I have to pay for it all. I need this job.” She waited. “Please Mr. Monroe.”
The look on his face softened. After a minute he cursed. “I better not regret this and if it backfires on me I’ll swear that you told me you were twenty-one. Got it?”
She sighed in relief and then clutched her hands together. “You won’t regret it. I swear!”
He gave her a doubtful look. “Just be here tomorrow by nine A.M. Practice starts at eleven but I want you to get fitted and meet everyone.” His expression softened again. “I’m sorry to hear about your baby but you have to be here when you’re scheduled. Will you be able to do that?”
“Yes sir. If I have set hours I can work around them.”
Vanessa and Charisma left in excitement.
“Girl, what in the hell were you thinking singing that old ass song for Jackson?!”
Vanessa laughed. “It got me the job didn’t it?”
“Eve! Where the hell is she at now!”
Vanessa cursed under her breath. “I’m sorry Miss Barbara, I have to go! Give him a Popsicle. That normally helps with the earaches. I’ll talk to you later!” She quickly hung up the phone and then hurried into the dressing room.
“I’m here.” Eve was the name Vanessa used while working for the Stone Street Hip-Hop Review. The name of the production was deceiving—it was intended to be an updated cabaret but ended up nothing more than a burlesque club where the performers did covers of current hip hop music and danced around half nude.
Stanley was standing right in the middle of the crowded dressing room, watching her with disapproval. He had a shaved head, save for a bush of neatly trimmed hair that stood up at the top of his head. It was dyed snow white, which contrasted grossly with his ebony skin. Stanley had a propensity for flamboyant makeup and his fake eyelashes looked like bats while his glossy lips looked like he’d kissed a vat of Vaseline. Vanessa did like his suits even though sometimes he went without a shirt beneath his suit jacket which caused one to get a peek of a big floppy man-tit.
“What are you doing in here, Stanley?” She asked in a monotone while checking her make-up in the mirror. She neither liked nor disliked him but some of the girls had an adversity to the chubby homosexual man, often times referring to him as Stank-ley. Him being gay was the only reason he was allowed in the woman’s dressing room—and why he was banned from the men’s.
“Hmph. None of you fishes got anything I want.” Stanley stated. Of course he was lying. Stanley would give his right testicle to look as glamorous as any of the women in this room.
“Why is it that you always manage to disappear right before show time?” He continued while placing his chubby hands on his chubby hips.
She looked at his reflection through the mirror as the other girls jeered at him for the unflattering reference.
“I have never been late for a set Stanley, so what I do before call is none of your business.”
“It is when Kiki wants a last minute change to the set.”
Vanessa turned and looked in surprise while several other women complained loudly.
“Again?!” Someone shouted.
Kiki was the star—though Vanessa preferred to think of her as the prima donna. She had the body of a back-up dancer for rappers. Her breasts were huge as was her butt—neither was real in Vanessa’s opinion. But no one cared about that. With a long blond weave, green contacts and light skin, Kiki was the epitome of what most girls wanted to look like.
She clearly had an amazing voice because not even a knock-out body could get a girl headline status and her own show. There were a million girls with looks and a voice, but she was lucky enough to also have a rich boyfriend that owned a club.
Kiki loved Hip Hop and because of a brief stint as a back-up dancer for Kool Moe Dee, she knew a lot of people in the industry. The show was popular because of it.
Vanessa found herself always watching the woman who was far from the most talented person in the show, but who pulled it off anyway because she had star quality. Kiki was a good headliner, just not always a likable person.
“Please don’t say she wants to change up the dance moves-?“ Someone stated.
“No. She wants you all wearing the glittering silver outfits. So hurry up and change!”
No one was happy about the change in wardrobe since most were already in costume and a change would also affect the make-up. The ladies darted around searching for costumes and shoes so that they could be on stage in ten minutes for their set time.
“I guess Jackson got her something new and she has to show it off on stage.” Nola said to Vanessa.
Vanessa shook her head as she added glitter to her eye-shadow. Jackson spoiled her all right. It made her heart ache as she thought back to a time when she’d had a man who loved her so much that he had killed for her …
The ladies lined up quickly for the night’s finale, which was a dance routine to the Pointer Sister’s Automatic. It was the only time that all of the men and women got to perform together and where Kiki generally got carried around the stage by the sexiest men in the show.
The finale was the biggest and the most important show other than Kiki’s headlining performance. Last minute changes only put people on edge and increased the potential for a screw up.
Kiki nudged her way to the front of the line-up. She was dressed in a new sparkly silver cat suit and clear plastic knee high boots that had been Be-dazzled with jewels. Her long hair was pulled up into a tight top pony and her make-up would put even the most bodacious drag queen to shame.
She was stunning.
Vanessa watched her wondering what was so special about her that she had an entire club devoted to her performances. The answer to that was that Kiki had a man that wanted to keep her happy, that was all. Thinking about relationships made her think about Scotty again so she focused on the job at hand instead.
The music began, the curtain opened and Kiki sauntered onto the stage amidst loud applause. Vanessa entered the stage next along with half of the other performers. She had to admit that they looked good in silver and black which complimented Kiki’s new outfit.
She danced and sang her part, being sure to never allow her voice to break free of the chorus. She’d done it once and Jackson had called her into his office and admonished her not to do it again. But then with a smirk he’d allowed her to perform in her own show.
In their line of work variety was necessary to keep the crowd interested. Mini performances were held with the most talented people heading them. They had a rapper that mimicked everyone from Slick Rick to Dougie Fresh. The top singers had sets and duets, which they were responsible for creating with the help of the set designer and choreographer.
There was even a musical arranger who could play nearly any instrument imaginable. He coordinated the music so that at times the performers outshined the original singers of the various songs. Sometimes Vanessa would listen to his music and wonder why he wasn’t working for a musical producer—why he wasn’t a music producer.
A lot of work went into creating your own performance, and if it got a poor reception it was immediately pulled and the singer returned to the lineup to perform behind Kiki or to back up the other shows until Jackson gave them another chance.
She had been new then and hadn’t expected the offer. Everyone that worked for the showcase was talented but you only got to be the head of your own show once you were popular enough to gain a following. Vanessa—or Eve had not been there long enough to gain a following. But that would change.
She was lucky to even be there at all. Now that she was twenty Jackson wasn’t as afraid that she would do something to cause him problems. She’d been working with him for nearly a year and had developed a following that was growing with each new performance.
Eve didn’t have headline status but whenever she created a new set the club would crowd up with old and eventually new fans.
After the show was over, Vanessa changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt. The club was still crowded and the D.J. would be spinning music until late into the night, but the performances were over for the evening.
They weren’t allowed to enter the club dressed the way she was, but Vanessa had no interest in mingling with the club-goers. They hit on her relentlessly. Therefore she still wore her engagement ring as if it was a wedding ring even though it had been nearly two years since she’d last seen Scotty.
She headed for a small room with a red X spray painted on the door and knocked.
“Yo, Dino. You still there?” She called.
“Yep. Come on in.” A muffled voice returned.
She opened the door to the small room where a thin black man was sitting on a stool, stooped over a synthesizer, which was resting on his lap. He was scribbling in a notebook but had stopped long enough to look at her.
Dino was in charge of the musical arrangements and could reproduce any song that was played for him. At the age of twenty-five or twenty-six Dino was probably the most important person to the showcase.
“What are you still doing here?” Dino asked. “Don’t you have a little kid to get home to?”
Vanessa gave him a surprised look. “How did you know about my son?”
She kept her business to herself—unlike most people.
Dino shrugged and tossed his notebook and pen onto the messy tabletop next to him. “I don’t know, maybe Jackson. What’s up?”
Some people thought he was standoffish because he was a man of few words, but Vanessa didn’t think that way. She had no time for drugs, and partying like many of the people that worked there. And she figured that Dino was probably the same way.
He was attractive; tall with a wiry frame and dreds that fell to his shoulders. He had a milk chocolate complexion and Vanessa had heard several of the girls speaking of a desire to see if he ‘tasted’ as good as he looked. But to the best of her knowledge Dino showed no interest in dating anyone involved with the show. For all she knew he had a girlfriend, although since he was so quiet it was hard to tell.
“I have a good idea for my next performance. I wanted you to think on it before we meet up tomorrow.”
“What is it?”
He didn’t hesitate or blow her off as he did with a lot of others. She’d seen Dino tell even Kiki that her idea was bad and he wouldn’t waste his time with it.
“Well you know how Jackson keeps wanting everything to get sexed up?”
He watched her with eyes that were so dark they looked black. It was distracting but she was used to his quiet nature. He nodded once.
“Well sex isn’t always about skimpy clothes and gyrating against each other. Remember how girl groups back in the sixties used to perform in evening gowns. Think Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.”
Dino blinked and straightened up. “Yeah.”
“I was thinking about doing an old Billie song-“
“Jackson won’t allow it. He only wants Hip Hop and R&B-“
“Well … remember in Lady Sings the Blues when Diana Ross sang The Man I Love? And then Billy Dee Williams offered her money and asked, ‘You want my arm to fall off?’”
Dino’s lips parted and his eyes lit up. “Yeah … that could work. We could re-do that scene. We could set up small tables and chairs and we could have the performers act as the audience trying to get her—or you to pick up dollar bills between your thighs! That’s brilliant! We can get costume to dress you in that look.” Dino jumped up from his seat in more enthusiasm than she had ever seen before.
“I have the album somewhere in storage. I need to find it and listen to it!” Dino exclaimed.
Vanessa grinned happily that he liked her idea. “Okay. So we can work on it tomorrow?”
Vanessa laughed and told him she’d see him tomorrow.
It was well after midnight when she got home. Charisma had already gotten Crash from the baby sitter’s and had given him his bath and put him to bed.
She stood over his crib and watched him sleeping. He was a year old and had filled out enough to cause her to strain just to lift him off the floor. But she carried him around because he couldn’t walk—had never learned.
Crash crawled well enough even with the bar that ran between his feet that kept them positioned correctly. He had discovered a weird scooting and a back and forth rocking motion, which got him easily around the apartment. Vanessa and Charisma got him standing but he had yet to manage walking and would simply lift his arms and cry to be picked up.
It worried her that he was becoming too dependent on them. Strange for her to think that since he was still a baby, but she worried about how his disability would affect his future.
What would Scotty think if he knew this?
Vanessa undressed with a sigh. Best that Scotty and the rest of the family just assume that everything was okay. She had never contacted Phonso after Crash’s birth as she had promised. They would have to trust that she could take care of herself and her baby. Besides, Scotty had his own business to worry about. He’d pretty much told her that when she’d left.
She crawled into bed and as she closed her eyes, visions of his face filled her imagination. It was horrible when she went to bed with visions of him in her head, because then she would dream about him.