One Way or Another
“Are you ever getting out of there?” my friend Vicky complained.
I crooked the receiver in my shoulder, scrabbling papers together. “I’m heading out now. Harvey dumped a bunch of stuff on me right before he took off.” My boss, the publisher, liked to clear his desk at the end of the week—which meant I got to stay late every Friday night.
“About time. I’ll see you at your place in an hour.”
“We’re going to stick together tonight, right? Avoid the meat market?” I loved dancing off my pent-up energy from long hours sitting at my desk. Vicky saw it more as a smorgasbord of men, served up buffet-style.
“Depends what’s on the menu. See you in a few.”
The minute she hung up, my line rang again. “Is this Julia?” a familiar voice screeched.
“Hi, Louise. How’s it going in Seattle?” Our high-strung author was on a twelve-city tour for her new thriller, and the campaign had been plagued with problems. A celebrated Texas crime reporter, she had braved drug dealers’ bullets but couldn’t cope with delayed flights and lumpy hotel pillows. Harvey had stopped taking her calls a week ago, and ever since she’d been haranguing me.
“The escort hasn’t shown up yet. Why can’t these people be prompt?” Louise fretted.
I held back from pointing out that it was over three hours until her event. “Let me see if anyone’s left in publicity; maybe they can locate her.”
I scurried around the corner to the desolate PR department. The lights in Erin’s cubicle were still on, which gave me hope. A few doors down, I found her on her knees in front of the copy machine. Erin looked up at me and smiled. “Got it!” she exclaimed, extracting an inky wad.
“Could you come and deal with Louise? She’s all pumped up for her signing, but the escort has gone awol.” I rolled my eyes.
“God forbid she should ask the front desk to call her a cab,” Erin grumbled as she followed me down the hall. “She’s stared down gun-toting Mafiosi, but on the road she turns into a quivering mass of jelly.”
“Typical of her,” I said. Most of our authors were great, but a few were real doozies. “Do you want to come out with me and Vicky later? We’re going to hit the Palladium around eleven.”
“I have to finish a press release for that astrology guide. Another glam night in the big city.”
“Okay, be that way. Call me if you change your mind.” I ducked into my office and switched Louise over to Erin, covered my typewriter, then crammed my weekend reading into my backpack.
I sprinted down the deserted hall past shelves overflowing with manuscripts, a few framed awards gathering dust. Our titles ranged from literary to pure fluff; with the economy still in the pits, we were hawking anything from pop psychology to diet fads. This had been a shock when I’d arrived as a starry-eyed editorial assistant after a brief stint in grad school, thinking I’d be spending my weekends holed up with hot talent from The New Yorker. But now I was seasoned enough to plow through the B-list celebrity memoirs and breastfeeding manuals, while relishing any good novels that came my way.
I caught the elevator with a jittery messenger who bounced his bike tire, making the floor shimmy. I waved to the security guard and headed down lower Park Avenue in the balmy air. Usually I walked home to save money on subway tokens; I figured I had time tonight since my best friend was probably still primping.
Vicky had left the company a few months ago to join the publicity department of a larger midtown publisher. I missed her at the office, and I was also envious of her escape from assistantdom. But we still got together on weekends, and now I couldn’t wait to go to our favorite club. We liked the Palladium for its edgy mix of punks, rockers, and regular people like us.
I wove through some guys hissing “Sens, sensimilla!” in Washington Square and stopped at a street vendor selling earrings. A pair with long strands of beads and feathers caught my eye. I fingered them for a minute, calculating. Seven bucks for drinks; three for a cab home tonight … Reluctantly I put them back.
Halfway down MacDougal, I came to a screeching halt. An absolutely perfect small table was sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk. I stepped close for a better look. Gold leaf curlicues adorned its surface, and ornate lion heads were carved into its corners. I gave it a shake to see if the legs were loose, but it didn’t even wobble. I couldn’t believe someone had thrown out something this nice—it wasn’t even large garbage night! At last I could get rid of the stacked milk crates I ate on.
Now I just had to get it home. My place on Broome Street was eight blocks away, and the table was about three feet square. Maybe if I swung my backpack around to the front and hoisted the table on my back …
As I stood there considering, a guy in a dirty tee-shirt approached, holding a can of beer. “You need some help with that?” he asked, swaying a little.
“I think I can get it. Thanks anyway.”
The man leaned against the brick wall of the apartment building to watch. Turning around, I backed up to the table. I tried to reach behind and grasp its sides, but I couldn’t bend back far enough—why I’d always stunk at the limbo-la. Maybe if I bent lower … I crouched down, the backpack wedged against my belly like an unwanted pregnancy, and strained to get a grip on its legs.
Suddenly a woman ran screeching out of the building. “Stop that! What are you doing with my table?”
I stared at her. “This is yours? I thought somebody was throwing it away.”
“Are you kidding? This is an antique! You couldn’t have thought it was being thrown out.” The woman glared at me, hand on her hip.
Oh my god, how embarrassing. “I didn’t realize—I mean, it was sitting here all by itself with no note on it or anything. I thought it was meant for the garbage.”
“The garbage!” the woman shrieked. “I paid six hundred dollars for that! I was waiting for my husband to bring it upstairs! You should keep your paws off things that aren’t yours,” she huffed as she flounced back inside.
The man in the tee-shirt smiled and took a gulp of beer. “Baby, you just took a bite of the B-i-i-i-g Apple.”
“Actually, I think it just bit me.”
Brass in Pocket
My cheeks burning, I continued across Houston toward my loft. I had rented it a year ago from the building’s owner, an old Italian man that I paid in cash. $330 a month wasn’t bad, now that SoHo no longer consisted of vacant warehouses. Some art galleries and clothing shops had sprouted up recently, along with a few sushi bars and espresso cafes. It seemed safer to walk the streets at night, but I hoped Mr. Iaccone wouldn’t catch on and raise the rent.
In the summer heat, the city smelled like a rotting overripe fruit. I turned onto Broome, glad to see that Vicky wasn’t cooling her heels on the sidewalk. After climbing three flights and unlocking the double deadbolts, I pushed up my screenless windows to catch a breeze. I removed the scarf covering a wooden crate of my favorite albums, chose a B.B. King and lowered the needle.
Hmm, what to wear… I held a cold beer against my cheek and stared at the things hanging from nails in the wall, since my loft didn’t come with a closet.
The selection was sparse, to put it mildly. I’d snagged my second-hand leather skirt for eight bucks because the lining was torn. Maybe it’ll hold up for one more night’s dancing … I grabbed my stapler and fixed the trailing hemline. From my three-legged dresser—a legit curbside salvage—I drew a ripped top from Screaming Mimi’s and black elbow-length gloves that I’d cut the fingers out of. The finishing touch was ten rubber bracelets on each arm.
Now for a few safety pins to add a punk edge. I attached a couple to my sleeve. Nice one, Julia. Looks like a failed home ec project, I thought, unclipping them. No matter how hard I tried to seem “downtown”, I felt like I still looked fresh-off-the-farm. I ran a brush through my chestnut layers and licked my finger to smooth an eyebrow. Sometimes people commented on the blue of my eyes, but I usually pictured myself in the Coke-bottle lenses I’d worn until college, when I finally got contacts.
“That’s as good as it’s gonna get,” I told the girl frowning at me in the mirror. I gave up and went to put on another record.
A familiar voice was calling from the street. “Get your Post here! Hot off the press: Julia Nash Leaves Office before Midnight—Publishing Industry Collapses in Ruins.”
I leaned out the window to see Vicky grinning up at me. Her cropped blond hair and pert nose made her look like a mischievous pixie. “Just a sec.” I got my key and threw it down to her, stuffing it inside a sock so it was easier to catch. She unlocked the door and stomped up the stairs in a flirty short skirt and heels; she could afford better clothes since her new company paid well.
“Nice hem job there.” Her green eyes danced as she gave me the once-over. She plopped down on the couch and I handed her a beer. “Could we listen to something a little less dour? Sheesh. You and your blues.”
“Sure, if you insist. Too bad you don’t appreciate the higher art forms.” I removed Howlin’ Wolf and put on The Pretenders, whipping my hips to the pounding bass.
“Is this the haircut album?” Vicky asked with a smirk. The other weekend before we went out, I’d propped the record cover against my mirror and tried to trim my hair like Chrissie Hynde’s.
“Those of us who are still assistants can’t afford salons. I thought I did a pretty good job; maybe if this publishing thing doesn’t work out, I’ll try beauty school.”
“Lucky thing it wasn’t Bow Wow Wow you were in the mood for that day.”
“Yeah, a huge purple mohawk would go over really well at the office.” I sat at the other end of the couch. “How are things with Emily?” Her new boss was demanding, but at least she was fair.
“She liked the press release I wrote today. It’s for a pop psych book on how to keep a man interested. I can condense the whole thing into two words: Act uninterested. Speaking of work, is the old letch still trying to get into your pants?” Although he was married, Harvey had a sleazy history of putting the moves on junior women.
“He keeps asking me out for a drink. That measly five-hundred-dollar raise isn’t going to get him over. Not that I’d go out with him for a million.” So far I’d been able to fend Harvey off, but it made working for him a real drag.
Vicky propped her skinny legs on a wooden crate. “We have to find you a new job. I asked Emily to let me know if she heard of any openings, if the hiring freeze ever gets lifted. Wouldn’t it be great to work together again?”
“Yes, I miss being able to grab lunch anytime. At least your career is launched; I’m just treading water. If I don’t make editor at some point… I have this nightmare I’ll still be typing Harvey’s letters when I’m thirty, in a moth-eaten cardigan with specs hanging from a chain around my neck.”
Vicky laughed. “Try not to obsess over it. You’ve only been there a little over a year.”
Which was about how long she’d been there when Emily rescued her. I went to grab another beer and cranked up “Stop Your Sobbing,” snarling the words along with Chrissie.
“Did that guy from the party ever call you?” Vicky asked.
“Nope. By the time I got back from the bathroom, a redhead in fishnets had him cornered.”
“You have to be more assertive. You let other girls move in who aren’t nearly as hot as you are.” She took a sip of beer and continued. “You can’t just sit back and let the guy do all the work. You aren’t in Pikesville, Pa. anymore.” Vicky often had advice about my love life, or lack thereof. From what she’d told me about growing up on Long Island, she hadn’t gone two weeks without a date since she was fourteen.
“Message of Love” came on, and Vicky hopped up to dance. I joined her, pogoing to the beat. She raised her arms and did an exaggerated grind against my hip.
“We should moonlight as erotic dancers,” I said, laughing and pushing her away. “Then I could afford a decent haircut.”
“If we made those moves at the Palladium, we’d have every dude in the place salivating.”
I collapsed on my sagging couch. “I don’t think I want them salivating on me.”
“Why not? You’d have the pick of the litter.” Vicky flopped down beside me.
I peeled the label off my sweating bottle and smoothed it on my thigh. “All I want is one good guy who’ll appreciate what I have to offer. Once I figure out what that is.”
“I don’t get why you’re so particular. Sometimes it’s nice just to have a warm body next to you. Wards off the lonelies on a Saturday night.” She downed the last drop of beer.
“You have a point. But it would be good if it could be a little more meaningful.”
“It is meaningful. It means you got boinked.”
I laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind, Victoria.”
At eleven, we walked the twenty blocks north to the Palladium. The club had a cavernous ballroom on the main floor and an upstairs VIP lounge for private parties. The line to get in snaked around the block.
Vicky went right up front, ignoring glares from some overdressed women and their dates. “Hi Barry,” she said to the bouncer.
“Vicky. And Julia.” Barry grinned and moved aside. “Come on in, girls.”
“Hey, we’ve been here half an hour!” a guy in a suit complained.
“Go back to Wall Street,” Vicky muttered as I followed her through the entrance.
We shoved our way into the crowd, the music so loud it was useless to try to talk. I could feel the bass throbbing in my throat. The concrete floor was already sticky with spilt beer, the smell of sweat mingling with the cloying scent of clove cigarettes. We found a spot next to a man with a chain running from nostril to ear, his blond foot-high spikes glowing in the black lights. Vicky blissfully swayed her slim hips, and I shut my eyes and lost myself in the rhythm.
The video guy came around, aiming his shoulder-mounted camera at us. We kept dancing normally in the spotlight’s glare, unlike a lot of people who put on a show for him. It was distracting because our images were projected larger-than-life against the huge back wall, so everyone could see. Finally he moved on to some girls in tight rubber dresses who shook their booties at the camera.
As a Clash tune played I noticed a man standing near me, holding a drink. He touched my arm and started to say something, seeming to point at the ceiling.
“What?” I shouted.
“A friend of mine wants to meet you gals. We’re up there,” he said with some kind of Southern accent.
I wondered why this guy had to run interference, but Vicky was interested. “What’s going on in the lounge?” she asked.
“Just a little party.” He grinned and took a sip of his drink.
Vicky smiled her assent, and he started toward the stairs.
“I heard some rock and rollers might be here tonight; there’s a private party or something,” Vicky said as we followed him, weaving through slam-dancing bodies.
I wasn’t dressed to impress in my ragged leather skirt, but at least we might score a free drink. We went up to the dark lounge where a bouncer was sitting on a stool with a checklist. I wondered why they needed a door-minder, but once we got inside, the crowd was pretty upscale. Slick-looking SoHo types struck blasé poses, while the women circulating the room looked like models.
The Southerner turned to us, and the light from the window overlooking the dance floor shone on his face. “Name your poison. I’m Sammy, by the way.”
With a shock it hit me who he was; I hadn’t recognized him in the dark, with his soul patch and shorter hair. All of a sudden I was really nervous. I’d been a huge fan of the British group Four to the Floor since I was a teenager, like everyone else I knew. Vicky, as usual, kept her cool. “Good to meet you; I’m Vicky. I’ll have a tequila sunrise. Julia?”
“Vodka and tonic, please.”
“One party water and a Ta-kill-ya, comin’ right up.” Sammy went over to the bar, tended by a girl in a black leather bikini.
“Can you believe it? That’s Sammy Parnell,” Vicky said. “I wonder if the others are here.” She scanned the crowd. “Who do you think his friend is? He said someone wanted to meet us.”
“No telling. I can’t believe it’s him either.” Whoever this friend was, he was probably interested in Vicky. She tended to attract across-the-room attention with her waifish blonde hair and endless legs. I hoped I had enough for a cab ride if she wound up going home with him; I had planned on splitting the fare.
Sammy returned with our drinks. “My buddy Jack’s over there. Why don’t you go say hello?” He jerked his head toward a dark corner where some women were standing before a low sofa. Could he mean Jack Kipling, the guitarist of the group? The vivacious clump of girls directed their enthusiasm toward whoever was sitting on the couch.
“Why don’t you introduce us?” Vicky said, smiling her Cheshire-cat smile that slanted her green eyes.
“Tell you what, I’ll just let him know you’re here.” Sammy went over and squeezed in between two twiggy blondes. A dark head of hair was briefly visible when the women parted. I glanced away, not wanting to seem star-struck, but Vicky continued to gaze in their direction.
“Oh my god! He’s looking our way now.”
“Stop staring. They must get that all the time.” I sipped my drink, which had twice the usual amount of vodka in it.
Sammy sauntered back. “Jack said to come say hi.”
Vicky had experience dealing with celebrities in her publicist role; I couldn’t imagine what I’d say to someone that famous. Nor was I in the mood to kiss up to some arrogant, obnoxious rock star who expected women to roll over and beg—even if I was a huge fan. “Go ahead. Maybe you can get an autograph.”
Vicky followed him to the sofa and exchanged a few words with Jack, who was still seated and mostly blocked from view. Then she laughed with Sammy for a few minutes and scribbled on a piece of paper. I polished off my drink as she came over smiling.
“Well, that was a thrill. Now I can tell my grandchildren that I met Jack Kipling. And Sammy Parnell. I gave Sammy my number.”
“Maybe they’ll both call you. Can we go downstairs and dance some more?” I didn’t want to blow her chances with Jack if he got unglued from his groupies, but I felt out of place in this fancy crowd.
“Let’s stay a few more minutes. Aren’t you going to say hi to Jack?” she asked, combing her fingers through her hair. “Is my lipstick smeared?”
“Lick your front tooth. There, it’s gone.”
“Listen, Jules, I think it’s you he wants to meet.”
I laughed. “Sure. He probably came here tonight hoping to run into me. I’m near the top of his list, just below Starlet Number One and Starlet Number Two.”
“I’m not kidding. He asked me where my friend was.”
I tried to take another sip of vodka before remembering it was all gone. So maybe it wasn’tVicky that Jack had singled out when the video guy threw our images on the wall. He was standing now; I could just make out his bored expression as he faced his entourage. A girl grasped his arm, clinging tightly until he detached himself.
“Sammy’s coming back,” Vicky said. “Look who’s with him.”
My pulse bolted; Jack was heading our way. Wild dark hair shot up in all directions, an earring glinting through the tangle. His long legs were encased in skintight jeans, frayed at the cuffs over python boots. He had a few days’ stubble and dark circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept recently. When he stood next to me, I almost passed out. Even this disheveled, he was as rakishly good-looking as on his album covers.
“You made me lose my spot on the couch,” Jack said, his Cockney accent stronger than I would have expected.
“I’m sure they’ll let you have it back.” I forced myself to tear my eyes away from him. Projected on the outer wall, two girls in death-mask makeup were thrashing about.
“D’you come here often?” Jack said, moving closer.
I tried to remember to breathe. “Fairly often. The music’s more danceable than some other places.”
“I noticed you dancing down there.” He gestured at the main floor with his drink. “Verrry nice.”
My cheeks flushed. “I was just trying to avoid a head-on with those slam-dancers.”
Jack laughed. “Why don’t we give you girls a ride home? I’m ready to split.”
I was so surprised, I didn’t know what to say.
“Jack’s car is right outside,” Sammy added.
“Fantastic,” Vicky said.
My heart pounded as we followed them to the stairs, Jack putting on sunglasses before he hit the first floor. The men hurried out to the street where a big black car was waiting at the curb. The driver opened the back door and Jack dove in, followed by Sammy. Vicky slipped inside and I got in by the window. The interior smelled of new leather, and had drink holders with various bottles and little lights along the sides. I think I’m in someone else’s movie, I told myself.
The driver turned to look at us through the open partition.
“Where to?” Sammy asked.
“If you could drop us at Mott and Hester, that would be great.” I’d walk the few blocks home from Vicky’s.
“Mott and Hester, Rick.”
The driver maneuvered expertly through swerving cabs as we flew downtown.
“Do you two go dancin’ a lot?” Sammy drawled.
I glanced over; Jack was leaning forward, looking at me. I felt my face get hot.
Vicky smiled. “When I manage to drag Julia away from work.”
“Where do you do your woork?” Jack asked, drawing out the word.
“She’s an editor at a publishing house,” Vicky said.
“An assistant editor. Vicky’s in publishing too,” I added.
“Publicity. Not the brainy stuff,” Vicky said.
“So you’re a brainy gal,” Jack said to me.
“Only on days that end in ‘y’.” I managed to smile at him despite my butterflies. The driver stopped at Mott and I got out. The door on the other side opened and Jack emerged, trailed by Sammy.
“Thanks so much for the ride.” I waited for Vicky on the sidewalk.
“Hold on a tick,” Jack said in a low voice. He ambled over to me, stepping into the light from a storefront. His shirt was untucked and unbuttoned halfway to his waist, revealing a thin chain with a slash of lightning dangling from it. He ran his hand through his hair, making it stick out even more. “Why don’t I see you home? Make sure you get in safely.” He cocked his eyebrow and gave me a wolfish grin.
“Um, that’s okay. I’ll be fine.” I was way too nervous to bring Jack Kipling home with me, no matter how sexy he was.
Jack’s face took on a puzzled look. “But … “
If I waited any longer, I’d be tempted to take him up on it. “Thanks again!” I said brightly. I grabbed Vicky’s arm and drew her along, leaving them staring after us.
“Are you insane?” she asked as we rounded the corner. “You could be ripping off his clothes as we speak. And Sammy and I could be getting to know each other. In the Biblical sense.”
“If we’d gone for the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, do you think we’d have ever heard from them again?” I said as she groped in a pocket for her key. “We’d be just another notch on their guitar necks. Plus I haven’t shaved my legs in over a week.”
“So what? I hope you haven’t blown it.” She pushed the door open. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
I hurried down the block, swerving to avoid a man rummaging through a tipped-over garbage can. How bizarre to go out for a typical Friday night, and then meet not one but twomembers of the Floor. The four of them—Patrick, lead singer and bass player; Jack, guitarist and back-up vocals; Mark on drums; and Sammy, the lone American of the group, on keyboard—had started in Britain, and then exploded in the States. I’d pored over their album liner notes so many times, I knew them by heart. And it was amazing to have met Jack, who’d always been my favorite.
But that was in terms of their music. I’d read about the band’s excesses, particularly Jack’s; he was the epitome of the bad boy rock and roller. Even though at this very minute I could have been wrapping my fingers in that wild mane of hair, I knew I would have felt awful the morning after. Aside from my fling with Eric, I’d seen my mother mope around lots of times after sleeping with a guy and then never hearing from him again. Let’s just say I’d learned from her example.
Maybe I’m not really missing Art after all this time, I thought as I clumped upstairs. I was probably just lonesome from the solitary weekends spent editing. But I wasn’t about to have a one-night stand with a rock star, no matter how much I liked his music. That would be the dumbest thing I could do.
Leslie Wells left her small Southern town in 1979 for graduate school in Manhattan, after which she got her first job in book publishing. She has edited forty-eight New York Times bestsellers in her over thirty-year career, including thirteen number one New York Times bestsellers. Leslie has worked with numerous internationally known authors, musicians, actors, actresses, television and radio personalities, athletes, and coaches. She lives on Long Island, New York.
Come Dancing by Leslie Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is very different from the romances I normally read. The storyline seemed like a slice of life romance film. Julia is from a small town and moves to New York to try to make her way. Her day-to-day gives an excellent look into the lifestyle there. Often the big city is portrayed as super horrific or super glamourous. In Come Dancing, it is what it is.
Also, this is a rockstar romance, but it isn’t typical there either. It’s a look inside, very honest. I really felt what it was like to have a relationship with a rocker. Drugs and sex are part of the plot, but again it wasn’t the hell behind it or the fairytale fantasy. It just felt like memoirs of someone’s life.
The story takes place in the early 80’s so it was also a new experience for me to read a contemporary type romance without the use of modern givens such as caller ID, cell phones, social networks, etc.
Parts of this book were slow and parts were really good, just as in most natural looks into reality. I enjoyed reading it, and will remember it for being refreshing and different.