Authors: Ginger Voight
“I’ll never doubt you again,” she promised.
I caught her staring at Eli’s famous denim-clad ass when he dove for cover. “Yeah, you will,” I predicted.
It was never wise to argue with OGWO.
At exactly five minutes after five o’clock that afternoon, I used my new windfall to head to my favorite nightspot after work. I needed a drink in the worst way after spending four hours picking up the office and ordering supplies to replace whatever Hurricane Rhonda had broken.
I cursed Eli Blake the entire time I did so. I hated the man with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, yet I always found myself cleaning up his messes. If I didn’t love Frank, and Julie, and the rest of the office, as well as 99% of the clientele, I probably would have quit that job. But in that way Eli really would have defeated me, or so my best friend kept reminding me when I cried on her shoulder about it all.
I met Clementine Pomeroy my first weekend in Los Angeles, when I went to the dive bar just down the street from my new apartment in Hollywood. It was called FFF, which I later learned stood for “Full-Figured Floozies,” an inclusive little joint that celebrated women of all sizes, and the men (and women) who adored them.
Eli would have hated the place, which, of course, made me love it even more.
Clem was a character. She didn’t give a rat’s ass that she was a size-20. She was fearlessly sexual, coming onto whoever struck her fancy, almost predatorily, just like any man might do. She didn’t give a flying fuck if anyone judged her for it. She played the field without one iota of remorse, with a robust social life that included all kinds of men.
Being traditional never really appealed to her, which might explain her multi-colored hair and her many tattoos, on display thanks to the revealing way she dressed despite courting 200 pounds on the scale. Despite what society told her she should want, she didn’t aspire to some white picket fence existence, finding Prince Charming or breeding a houseful of kids. She wanted to drink and laugh and dance and fuck, which was why she and her best friend Antoine opened up FFF three years before I moved into town. The little dive bar that could had made significant strides since then, growing in popularity year after year.
I knew she was about to break out soon.
It was pretty impressive for someone who had barely reached the quarter century mark, but Clem wasn’t your typical twenty-five year old. From the time she was nineteen she juggled a half a dozen jobs, working as a makeup artist for major television programs. This girl was always on the go, right in the thick of things.
I pretty much thought she ruled all, and hung out with her daily so she could teach me how to do likewise.
Naturally after the kind of day I had, I made a beeline for FFF. Thundering music met me at the door, the heavy beat of the dance music rivaling any fabulous WeHo club. Since Antoine was fabulous and flamboyant, the club catered not just the big girls, but all who loved them. Tops of that list included many gay men.
was welcome at FFF. That was the point.
It was the kind of place you could see a drag show on one night, sing karaoke the next, with a full-figured fashion show at week’s end so Clem could sell all those unique little outfits she put together after scouring thrift shops, garage sales and clearance racks.
No matter what size/age/gender/sexual orientation you were, Clem could make you look and feel like a superstar.
Those days I had to deal with Eli at all were the ones I didn’t even bother going home first. I went straight to the club and rejuvenated myself around the people who really mattered. Not everyone was fake in my world, and I needed that reminder some days more than others.
As a result, Clem knew exactly why I wore such a sour look as I planted myself at the bar. “So how is Eli?” she asked as she poured me a drink. When I practically growled as I glared back, she doubled the alcohol. “Let me guess. Girl problems?”
“Not anymore,” I mumbled as I took the drink.
Clem chortled. “Who didn’t see that coming?”
I grinned at her. “Julie.” I slid the two twenties across the bar.
“And you got a meltdown too,” she said as she picked up both bills. “Sweet.”
The unmistakable beat of Eli’s hit, “
More Than a Mouthful
,” punctuated her comment. My jaw dropped as I stared at her. “Really?”
She shrugged. “It’s got a good beat. And they love it,” she said, referring to the crowd that flooded the dance floor.
My scowl deepened. “If they only knew.”
Clem shrugged as she cut up some lemons. “Who cares if he means it or not? As long as
do, that’s all that counts.”
She poured me another double and headed down the bar to the next patron.
I didn’t linger after I finished my drinks. I knew I had quite the week ahead of me, so I wanted to go home, change into my comfy jammies and enjoy a little downtime before the chaos ensued.
I walked the few blocks from the club to my apartment. It wasn’t the best part of Hollywood by a mile. My place wasn’t up in the hills, sparkling like stars in the sky. Instead it was a little one-room studio that smelled constantly of Chinese food, courtesy of the bustling restaurant downstairs.
That was where I stopped for my usual, the #2 with vegetable egg roll and brown rice, which they practically had ready for me as I walked through the door. “Hey, Ling,” I greeted as the owner finished putting the white cardboard containers in the bag.
“You’re late tonight,” Ling Cheung commented with paternal concern. He was short, slight and balding, but had the spirit of a dragon. I knew he would always have my back, which had been reassuring for an L.A. orphan like me.
He had virtually adopted me from the day I came looking to rent the space above his restaurant, seeing something in me that resonated, I guess, since he was once a stranger in a strange land himself.
Ling emigrated from China as a young boy way back in the sixties. In pursuit of the American dream, he took a job as a dishwasher when he was eighteen years old, juggling college on the side. Within twenty years, he owned his own restaurant, opening this current location in 1984. Since then he had seen and done a lot of things, which were all documented on his Wall of Fame.
The Lucky Dragon may have looked like a hole in the wall from the outside, but heads of state had dined there. Despite it all, Ling had remained humble, one of the sweetest men I ever knew. He was like an honorary grandfather, so he could keep tabs on my comings and goings and I’d never take offense.
In fact, I found it rather comforting.
“Long day,” I offered with a shrug.
He nodded as he handed me the bag. “Leave a day open this weekend,” he requested. “I’m meeting with all the tenants.”
My stomach dropped. “That sounds ominous. Is something wrong?” My heart sunk even further. “Are you okay?”
He brushed it away. “I’m fine,” he assured. “Just old. What day works for you?”
“Any,” I replied as I tried to hand him what was left of my winnings from my bets with Julie. He shook his head, which scared me even more. The only time he’d ever turned down any money was the previous December, when I had lost a week of work because I got sick with the flu just before rent came due. Since I came up short, he let me skip the month to recover. It had been the most amazing Christmas gift ever, proving he had developed quite a soft spot for me. I saw that once again in those warm, dark eyes.
“Saturday at ten. Okay?”
I nodded, but my mood had effectively flat-lined by the time I lumbered up the narrow stairs to my apartment on the second floor.
There were four studio apartments there. One was rented by an aspiring screenwriter who was already going bald at twenty-seven. I barely saw him. Whenever he wasn’t down the street at the local coffee shop typing away on his newest creation, he was networking through groups and classes around town.
Another was rented by a woman and her two children, who had escaped domestic abuse by the hair of their teeth, and were now living hand to mouth in a tight little space. I heard them more than I saw them, though I had taken them some extra blankets and linens when they moved in because they had precious little else.
Unit B was occupied by a man so old and so deaf that his constantly running TV could be heard from the stairwell. Since he was the neighbor right next to me in Unit A, I never bothered to get a TV of my own. I could hear everything I needed to hear through the thin walls. Sure it was mostly old TV classics, but it was entertaining. I was pretty sure I could quote
word for word.
I let myself into the tiny apartment that I kept fastidious and neat. Thanks to Clem, I had decorated the modest space with light and color, with funky old hipster furniture, and all my favorite art on the walls. A print of my favorite piece, Hopper’s
, was mounted on the wall right across from my sofa-bed. Who needed a TV when I could just stare at that masterpiece for hours?
I routinely lost myself in the image, imagining what life would have been like in New York in the 1940s. Having transplanted to a huge city, where I lived in some shoe box of an apartment, right in the midst of things but still gloriously removed, that stark, lonely piece spoke to me. Many times it rendered me melancholy, though I wasn’t sure why. I found that I kind of liked the feeling. It hurt, but the hurt felt good, like I was struggling to remember a past life, the remnants of which lingering somewhere in my subconscious. When I felt it, really,
felt it, I was occupying both lives at the same time.
I opened my laptop to queue up some dinner music and check my social media accounts, which is where my appetite, and my mood, took an immediate nosedive. In a heartbeat I knew things had just gone from chaotic to catastrophic.
It had taken a few years, but Eli’s tenuous cover had finally been blown. PING, the carnivorous gossip media group, had broken the news first, because they always broke the news first.
DOES ELI BLAKE SECRETLY HATE ALLTHE FAT GIRLS HE SINGS ABOUT? EX-SQUEEZE RHONDA ESPOSITO SPILLS ALL!
I groaned as I planted my face into my hands.
It was going to be a long week.
Though I arrived at the office an hour early, the place was already abuzz as Frank and Eli attempted a little damage control. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Eli had been trending all night long, which, normally, was something that we wanted to happen. In fact, that was a big part of my job to make it so.
Now, thanks to a very irate and vindictive Rhonda, who had gone straight to PING with all she knew about Eli the second she left our offices the previous afternoon, the allegations trending were cringe-worthy. It covered everything from secret things he had said about some of his heavier fans, but also a not so generous description of his other talents, effectively hitting below the belt. Let’s just say the term “needle dick” was trending in the #2 spot and leave it at that.
If I liked him even an iota, I might have felt sorry for him.
Fortunately for Eli, he had a rabid fan base. From the minute the story broke they targeted Rhonda, whom they already hated for being thin, beautiful and on the arm of their guy. Instead of burying the ugly story, their passionate response kept Eli’s name at the tip of everyone’s tongues (and fingers,) all the way up until seven o’clock in the morning.
It was a mixed blessing. His original video for “
Big Girl/Big Heart
” had at least a million new views as every news outlet, legitimate and otherwise, ran the link along with the story.
The wild horses had broken from the gate and it was up to me to corral them. Again. I made a mental note to ask Frank for a raise.
“I warned you about this,” Frank growled at Eli. “Didn’t I warn you about this?”
“What was I supposed to do, Frank? You saw her. She was completely irrational. What was I supposed to do?”
I swallowed every chastisement that sprang into my throat. I wanted to tell him that if he hadn’t lied in the first place, none of this would be happening, but neither Frank nor Eli would ever admit that his duping an entire group of fans was a bad way to do business.
It had worked so well, after all.
I would also remind him that it didn’t matter if he offered to replace the bird; Rosie Blue was a living, breathing creature that could not be replaced—ever. Rhonda needed him to acknowledge that with nothing short of an apology, but he had dismissed her feelings. By doing so he had dismissed her. He had asked her to move in with him, only to treat her like she was insignificant and that her feelings didn’t matter. He could buy her a hundred damned parakeets and never make up for that. She didn’t need him to “fix” the unfixable problem; she just needed him to acknowledge it.
But if didn’t matter to the great Eli Blake, it just didn’t matter.
“Right now it’s all he said/she said. As long as she doesn’t unearth anything incriminating, we should be able to just brush this under the rug as sour grapes.” Frank turned to me. “Carly, I need you to compose some posts for social media. Make it as gracious as possible, that way she looks even worse.”
I gaped at him. “She’s our client, Frank.”
He shrugged. “No such thing as bad publicity. Even this,” he said, referring to the news stories on the screen, “can work for us if we know how to use it. I’ve already got him booked to perform at Universal Citywalk this afternoon.” He turned to Eli. “Sing to the biggest girl in the front row. Make her feel like a star. Take lots of photos. Make sure you post them on your Insta-whoosits or Photo-Grams. Give her a hug. Hell, give her a kiss. But get it on film, whatever you do.”
Eli looked as nauseated as I felt, but for completely different reasons. “Is that really necessary, Frank?”
“This was your idea, Smart Guy,” Frank reminded. “Make it work. Do I need to show you the stub for your last quarterly payment?”