PJ Sherman has done the unthinkable: run away from her life to join the “circus” that is the San Francisco nightlife, working as a DJ at various clubs and spending each night on other people’s couches. She has no rent, no bills, no past, and no future beyond tonight’s gig. But all that’s about to change. Offered a chance at her dream, to be a world-famous top DJ, she suddenly has a future to plan for… and a past to hide.
Couch World. Another day, another chance to start over…
I wake up and have no idea where I am. That’s not a bad thing. If I did know where I was, I think I’d be worried.
I roll over, get my bearings. Late afternoon light coming in through a window. The room is a mess, I notice immediately. There’s a bra on the coffee table, looking out of place amongst the mess of women’s magazines. A Cosmo babe scowls at me ferally from an electric pink cover. My pertinent stuff is piled carefully on one copy of People: cell phone, iPod, and the latest book I’m reading. I remember drifting off to sleep with it last night, barely remembering to shut off the light… which is behind my head, isn’t it? It is.
Ah, yes. It’s coming back now.
I check the time — two p.m., according to my cell phone display. And it’s Wednesday. I’ve got things to do today, I think while lying back and stretching. The sheet I’ve got wrapped around me smell like spring-lemon detergent and a hint of musty linen closet. The rest of the room smells like baby-powder and girl. Good night’s sleep last night, I find myself thinking. That’s always a nice way to start.
I hear someone stirring around, using the bathroom. Like I said, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and someone else here isn’t at work at a day job.
I’m in the apartment of the Strippas, I remember with a click. In fact, I can see Candy’s picture, pouting and proud, up on one wall. She’s framed the ad they took of her, and that time when she was on the cover of the Spectator, wearing a tiny swath of panties and crossed black Band-aids over her nipples. It’s not a bad picture. Barely airbrushed at all, or so she says.
Liza comes stumbling out, wearing a T-shirt and a thong. The T-shirt could be a wee bit longer, I notice uncomfortably when she bends over and surveys her fridge. “Morning, Jammy. You sleep okay?”
“Great. Thanks,” I say, and I mean it. “Your couch is really comfortable.”
“Thanks.” I can tell she’s proud. Like a good hostess.
“You coming to the club tonight? I’m punting.”
She claps her hands, does a little happy dance. “Which club?”
I have to think about it. Wednesday, Wednesday… “Technique. I’m subbing for DJ Nightshade.”
“Cool. I’m off at two, I’ll drag the others. You know we love seeing you spin.”
I smile. They really are nice.
“Oh, that reminds me, though,” she said, leaning on the refrigerator door, a can of Diet Coke in one hand. “You can’t stay here tonight. We’re having company later.”
I’ve learned not to ask what the Strippas mean when they say “company.” At twenty-nine, I still like to hang on to what naiveté I have left. “No problem. I’ll have Sticky hook me up.”
She walks over, taking a long sip of her soda, and then rumples my hair. “You are too cute.”
The Strippas tend to think of me as a stray cat they can occasionally pet-sit for. I don’t disabuse them of this notion. They really do have a comfortable couch.
“Did you want to grab some lunch later?”
“Would love to, but it’s laundry day.” I think about it. The Strippas live in the Tenderloin, or thereabouts. “Nearest bus line is where?”
“There’s one two blocks down. By the BART station.”
“Thanks.” It’s easier to be in the city. The club, Technique, is actually sort of a pain to get to, over by the warehouse district… sort of. It’s hard to explain San Francisco geography. “I really do appreciate…”
“Oh knock it off. You know you’re welcome any time.” Another hair-rumple, and a small cheek pinch. Those, I could do without. “I’m gonna go back to bed a bit, okay?”
“I’ll be quiet,” I assure her.
“I won’t.” She winks at me. “Freddy’s over.”
Yikes. That pretty much propels me out of bed, and into the shower. By the time I’m dressed, she’s not kidding about not being quiet. She sounds like an opera singer practicing scales. I leave a note that thanks all of the Strippas, and I hastily pack my blue duffel bag, stuffing my sweats/pajamas to the side of my laptop. I also fold up my bedding, leaving it in a neat pile at the end of their couch. One of the key rules to the way I live is: leave the place you stay the way you found it. Don’t mess up bathrooms, don’t eat their food, don’t leave your crap all over the place. Most of this is courtesy. You’re always going to need a couch, and you want people to be okay with letting you be a repeat visitor. There aren’t a lot of A-list couches. There’s also the slim possibility that you will need to relocate in a hurry. I sleep in pajamas that I can, if necessary, run outside in. Most of my stuff is in my bag or close to it, and my shoes are next to my bag.
Honestly, the Strippas hover just above B-list, because they tend to have a lot of guys over. Not that I judge their lifestyle. They’re sweet, and whatever they do, to whomever they do it to, is all right in my book. But when they bring strangers over… well, let’s just say sometimes I haven’t always trusted their judgment in companions. I sleep light when they’ve got guys over. That contingency I mentioned? Only time I’ve had to run was when one of my couch owner’s overnight guests, besides myself, woke up drunk and unruly and spoiling for a fight. It wasn’t pleasant. I had to buy a new pair of jeans and a new duffel bag after that one. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten my laptop yet…. it was still with a friend.
Digressing. Anyway, I haven’t made the same mistake twice.
I’m dressed, duffel bag slung over my shoulder. It looks warm out for September, but in the City, the wind tends to make everything cold. I’m wearing a beat up leather bomber jacket, big sweats, my hair in wet braids that leave water trails on my T-shirt. I go to the Laundromat, and strip down to T-shirt and boxers. Everything else goes in a washing machine. I listen to beats on my iPod while the washer’s running, going over my play list. I ignore a few people who look at me oddly, especially one woman with her small child and a guy who looks like he’s doing his laundry on lunch break from some office. By the time everything’s dry, my stomach is kicking up a fuss. I only eat two meals a day, and I figure it’s time for meal number one. I hit a little dive on the way, grab two tamales, still steaming and wrapped in corn husks. It’s heavenly. The sure giveaway to finding the best Mexican restaurant on the block is look for where approximately eighty percent of the patrons don’t speak English, and where there’s always a line. This is pretty cheap, pretty filling, and just about perfect. I won’t be going on until eleven, closer to twelve. I figure by then, I won’t have any food in my stomach to potentially throw up.
It’s a valid concern. Getting up on the decks still makes me a little nervous. Even after a year or so of subbing.
Still, I’ve got a little more pressing concern right at the moment, above and beyond losing my tamales on Nightshade’s gear.
I need to find a place to sleep tonight.
Samantha Regales walked up the street toward Technique, the club where her agency, Whitford Modeling, was holding one of their parties. Her thigh-high black patent boots clicked menacingly on the sidewalk. There was a line to get in the club, which for a Wednesday midnight was a good sign. She bypassed the line, ignoring both he looks of menace by pissed-off people waiting, and the covetous looks of packs of club boys who couldn’t tear their eyes from her. Considering she was wearing a short burgundy mini-dress from Miu Miu, she would be offended if they weren’t staring. She had her shoulder-length dark walnut hair up in a twist that looked casual and only took forty minutes to get right. She walked up to Sticky, her favorite bouncer.
He stared at her, his eyes practically bugging out of his head. She did a slow turn, one of her runway specials. “You like?” The question came out as a purr, but was still audible over the hum of the crowd.
“Too sexy,” he said, ands he allowed him to hug her. Not too close or too long, but enough that he could smell her perfume. Sensi, by Armani. She was just trying it out. Seemed to trigger the right response, she thought, when she finally had to tug away. Of course, she could be wearing motor oil and Sticky would have the same reaction.
As it should be, she thought with a smile.
“I’m here for the party,” she said.
He nodded. “I thought so. A lot of youngsters tonight. I’d better escort you.”
“I know the way to the VIP room,” she reproved, putting a little distance between them. “Thanks, though!”
With a wave to him, and a killer smile to the bouncer, she walked inside. She headed for the VIP room, smiling at the man who was watching the door.
There was already a solid crowd from the agency there, she noticed with a frown. The agency wasn’t A-list, like an agency like Stars or something, but they were trying to position themselves as young, hip, a little more diverse. The agents and models were clustered in knots, each orbiting a different client. The clients were old, Samantha noticed, and a good deal of them were male, but there were females as well — magazine people, a few designers.
Samantha was quickly converged on by Jenna and Andrea, her two modeling friends. They were younger than she was — seventeen to her nineteen. She wondered what their parents thought, letting them go to a party at midnight on a school night. Then she grinned. Probably the same thing her parents would think if they realized where their only daughter was.
“There’s a couple of big names here,” Jenna said, scanning the crowd and sipping what looked like a Diet Coke. “A couple of really big photographers. Like Amos Salvador.”
“Oh, him,” Andrea said, rolling her eyes. “He’s such a lech.”
“Shut up,” Jenna said. She was the more dominant of the two. “You wouldn’t be saying that if he came up and said he wanted to photograph you. Your career would jump up three levels if you had some shots by him.”
“Yeah, well,” Andrea said, and then turned her attention quickly to Samantha. “How are you doing? Go on any calls this week?”
“Five,” Samantha said, feeling a little smug when the two of them stared at her with envy.
“Any callbacks?” Jenna said, looking at her manicure instead of at Samantha.
Samantha frowned. “I haven’t heard yet.”
“Well. I’m sure that you will,” Andrea said.
Samantha was sure that she meant to be comforting, but it was sort of insulting. Samantha had not been having a lot of luck lately, and it worried her. She’d been signed with Whitford for three years, since she was in high school. She’d basically hounded and hammered away until she got in. It had taken her a year, but she had remembered the looks on the faces of the cheerleaders in her high school. It had made dieting and working out worthwhile.
Then, she’d been a hot new face at Whitford. Now, she was having trouble getting her agent, Stan, to return her calls. This week was the first busy call week she’d had since she started college, and she was a sophomore now. She figured that the fact she’d been hounding him again contributed to that. She’d track him down later, so she could talk to him face to face.
She straightened her shoulders. “Who have you talked to?”
Jenna and Andrea looked at each other, startled. “Um… Stan told us to talk to that guy,” Jenna said, pointing to a paunchy guy with obvious transplants. “He’s a scout. He’s looking for faces for Seventeen.”
Samantha rolled her eyes. “They’re usually looking for fourteen year olds. Anybody else?”
They both shook their heads.
“Do you recognize anybody from — hey!”
Someone had covered her eyes with his hands. “Hey, beautiful,” she heard, and spun around.
“Aaron,” she said, with a smile. “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“When I heard there was a model party? Where else would I be?” He winked at her.
Jenna and Andrea crowded around, smiling. “Samantha, who’s your friend?” This, from Jenna.
“This is Aaron, also know as DJ Dizzy-Spin,” she said. They were so high school sometimes, she thought. Aaron was cute, but he was also low level — good for an ego boost, but he knew absolutely no one. He was eye candy. “Chuck, these are my friends, Jenna and Andrea.”
The two of them giggled. Samantha felt embarrassed for them.
“Nice to meet you,” Aaron said, but he kept his attention focused on Samantha. “So… want to dance?”
She glanced around. Few of the models were dancing. “Um…”
“You’d stand out,” he said, his voice persuasive.
Samantha smiled. Those were the magic words. She was a good dancer, she had to admit.
There was a D.J. playing, some generic sort of hip-hop, something with a good beat. Samantha let Chuck lead her, smiling a little as Jenna and Andrea watched but didn’t follow. And then she began to dance.
Most models don’t have curves. Despite losing weight at her agent’s insistence, she still had breasts, and hips. It might be a drawback in her profession — she felt sure it had cost her several runway gigs. But she also knew that, when it came to men, the slight curves helped. After a cursory scan of the room, she could tell that a couple of the older men were watching her.
Aaron tried to move closer, and she teasingly moved away, finally nudging him so that there was space between them. She didn’t want to look like she was unavailable. That wouldn’t help her at all.
Then, subtly, the music changed. It was funky, sexy. A beat that would really let her show off.
She let herself get into the music, dancing with Chuck but making sure to spin, display herself to the crowd. She saw Stan, her agent, looking toward her as she moved in front of the D.J. booth. The D.J. himself was someone she didn’t recognize… he looked old for a D.J., although he also looked cute. She smiled at him. He was too focused on the turntables, so he didn’t smile back. She kept on dancing.
She felt like she could’ve gone on forever. The music crescendo was thundering, and she saw Aaron smiling at her, saw others whispering to each other. It was working. She didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of it before.
When the song ended, people actually applauded. She smiled, wondering if she should bow, or what.
Then she saw Dylan clapping… and looking at the D.J. booth.
What the hell?
She looked around. They weren’t clapping for her. They were clapping for the D.J., as well. Jenna and Andrea came up to her.
“That guy stepped in and took over as D.J. while you were on the floor,” Andrea reported. “And suddenly, everybody in the crowd started whispering. We were hanging out by Amos, and the designer he was talking to said that the guy had been a D.J. at all the major fashion shows in New York. He’d even done work in Paris and Milan…”
Yeah, but he was stealing her spotlight, Samantha thought sourly. “Did I look like a complete idiot out there?”
“Of course not,” Andrea said.
“You were doing really well,” Jenna said, although there was a gleam in her eye. “You definitely stood out.”
Samantha felt sick.
“Don’t worry, nobody was paying attention to you,” Andrea said comfortingly. “They all wanted to talk about the guy.”
“Does this guy have a name?”
Aaron put an arm around Samantha, and she shrugged it off. “That’s Jonathan Hadeis,” he said. “As far as house and trance, he’s huge… he’s one of the originals. He knows people in the music industry and the fashion industry. If you’re famous, odds are good he knows you.”
Now Samantha went from irritated to intrigued. “Really.”
Aaron laughed. “Don’t even try. You’re sexy as hell, but Jonathan Hadeis? So out of your league.”
She frowned, watching as Jonathan descended from the booth and was immediately crowded by people, smiling at him, laughing with him, shaking his hand.
People had said Samantha wouldn’t make it as a model, either. Or she wouldn’t be able to balance being a model and being a student. She’d had a good time proving them wrong.
Stan, her agent, stood on the fringes of the crowd, trying to talk to Jonathan. And failing miserably, she noticed with a smile.
She ignored Jenna and Andrea’s attempts at flirting with Aaron, ignored the rest of the crowd, and focused like a sniper scope on her quarry. Proving that Jonathan Hadeis wasn’t out of her league might be just the challenge she was looking for.
Leslie Anderson leaned back against the cool vinyl of the booth. The music was something loud, grinding… something Rick’s friend Sticky called “drum-and-bass.” He’d even asked her: “do you like drum-and-bass, or maybe tribal? They’re playing jungle in the other room.”
She’d made some non-committal sounds, even while wondering what the difference was, exactly. She got the feeling that Rick would know.
“Having a good time?”
She smiled. Rick was looking at her with a mixture of worry and interest, under a veneer of booze-tinged euphoria. “I’m doing fine, honey.”
“Is it too loud?”
It was deafening. The smile didn’t waver a millimeter. “No. It’s pretty good. Drum-and-bass, right?”
He grinned, leaning over to give her a warm semi-hug in the crowded confines of the booth, and she felt comforted when he left his arm around her shoulders. “You keep this up, you’re going to sound like a regular club kid.”
She grinned back at him. That was the point. Not to be a club kid — at thirty-five, she missed her window on that one — but to show him that she could fit in quite well, thanks very much.
His friends crowded into the booth, jostling her closer to Rick, which wasn’t a problem… and squeezing her up against the rather impressive girth of Sticky, which was a little problematic.
“Rick! Happy birthday, man!”
Rick was suddenly engaged in a roaring conversation with somebody across the table. Another round of shots was ordered. She’d already stopped, hours ago, and even then she’d only had two beers. So far, all of Rick’s old friends had stopped by to buy him a “birthday shot.” He was doing pretty well, considering he’d already had about five, but who was counting?
She’d be driving them back to his apartment. She’d figured as much when she agreed to go out.
“So,” his friend, a guy with a pencil-thin goatee and several tattoos said engagingly, winking at her. “Is this her?”
She couldn’t help it. She held her breath.
Rick’s smile widened to the point of goofiness. “Yup. This is her. Leslie.”
“Man.” The guy leaned over and shook her hand, as well. She just kept smiling. “You guys have been going out how long?”
“Four years,” she said, with a little tinge of pride when Rick gave her shoulders a squeeze.
“Four years,” the guy echoed. “So why are we only meeting you now?”
She winced. She was wondering when that was going to come up.
Rick wasn’t so far gone that he hadn’t anticipated the question. “This isn’t really Leslie’s scene,” he said, and his tone was conciliatory. “She doesn’t go out to clubs a whole lot, Andre.”
Andre’s look was… well, maybe she was reading into it, but it seemed a little judgmental. Or wary. “So what is your scene… Leslie, huh?”
Definitely a challenge. “Oh, you know…”
“She’s a stay-in-and-watch-videos,” a girl on the opposite side of the table — what was her name? Kendra, she thought. “She’s not into going out.”
Kendra had been sulky all night. And she’d been staring at Rick most of the night, as well, and had purchased two of the birthday shots.
“Really? Huh.” Andre made a little nod, like so that’s how it is. “And that’s why you’re not coming out as much, Rick?”
“It’s my birthday,” Rick sang out, surprising everyone into a laugh and taking a little of the edge off. “I can do whatever the hell I want.”
Sticky’s laughter was like a low sonic boom. “Yes, you can,” he said, patting Rick’s arm and consequently almost launching Leslie forward, as well. “I have to go check on PJ, but I’ll be right back, okay?”
Leslie nodded, as the shift of bodies continued to accommodate Sticky’s leaving. Three more people took up the space that Sticky’s absence had created.
“Who’s PJ?” Leslie asked, trying to change the subject.
“She’s a DJ,” Kendra replied. “She’s sort of Sticky’s pet.”
The rest of the table laughed. Leslie joined in with a low chuckle, more to keep company than because she could see what was so funny.
Next thing she knew, Kendra and Andre were swapping stories about Rick’s earlier, hell-raising rave days. Rick quickly joined in. Leslie looked down at her glass of Sprite.
I should have gone out with them more. But Rick was right… this wasn’t really her kind of scene. She was a stay-at-home-and-watch-videos kind of girl. She’d never really felt that was something to be ashamed of.
“Coming through,” Sticky said, and the crowd made way to give him back his seat. She’d met Sticky a few times — he was one of Rick’s best friends, and she liked him a lot. “Sorry.”
“Doing okay,” he said, although something in his voice made her wonder what was possibly going on. He had a sort of tentative voice — and from what she knew about Sticky, the man was never tentative. “How are you doing?”
The beginnings of her answer were drowned out by the wave of laughter from Andre, Kendra and Rick. “Doing all right,” she said, leaning a little closer to Sticky so he could hear her.
“You look a little tired.”
She wasn’t tired. She was exhausted. She hated to say it, but she was feeling all thirty-five of her years. She’d remembered going out sometimes, in college… coming back in at four in the morning, getting up the next day at nine or so. Now, she snuck a glance at her watch. One-thirty, and she felt like she could just crawl into a grave and pull the dirt over her head.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I guess I haven’t been out much lately.”
He leaned a little closer… he was wearing cologne, nothing overpowering or tacky. He was dressed to the nines, and he looked every inch ghetto-fabulous in a gray suit. The club was pretty upscale, all things considered — this was Rick’s crowd.
“Don’t let Kendra get to you,” he said. “Or the others. They just miss Rick, is all. It’s not just you, though. Now that Rick’s got a real job… I guess he just doesn’t have the time for his old friends so much anymore.”
She figured as much. Still, it didn’t make her feel better.
“Don’t worry about it,” Sticky reiterated.
“I’m going to need to talk to your boy for a minute. Is that okay?”
She nodded, tapping Rick on the shoulder. He maneuvered out of the booth, getting caught up in Kendra (who refused to budge an inch, forcing him to crawl over her. Going to have an issue with you, missy, was all Leslie could think.)
“Rick turns thirty,” Kendra said, poking at the remains of the small cake that somebody had brought. “Wow. He’s practically old.”
Definitely going to have an issue with you.
Kendra’s smile turned cat-like. “How old are you, again?”
But before Leslie could answer, Rick was coming back to the booth… motioning Leslie to get out. She left eagerly, avoiding the side of the booth Kendra and Andre were camped out in.
“Sticky said you’re tired,” he said, and he stroked the side of her cheek. In that moment, she would have done anything for him — stayed until five in the morning, if need be. His eyes were warm with concern. “How do you feel about going home?”
Home. Sleep. She felt like he was offering her heaven. “But… it’s your birthday,” she forced herself to say. “Are you okay with that? I mean, I don’t want to take you away from your friends.”
He sighed. “You’re not. They’re just… well. We’ll talk about it later,” he said, with a little look at the knot of friends staring at them from the booth. “Why don’t we just go home?”
She smiled. “Sure. No problem.”
She turned to give Sticky a hug. “Thanks,” she said.
“Um…” Sticky held her a little longer. “There’s this thing, though.”
She stopped, looked at Rick… who was suddenly looking a little guilty. “What?” she asked, gingerly.
“I have to do this favor for Sticky.”
“Sure,” she said, still wondering at their look. “Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’ll be closing the place down,” Sticky said, with an easy chuckle. “The thing is… PJ needs a couch.”
Leslie blinked. “You want us to move a couch? Now?”
Now Sticky bellowed with laughter. “No, no. PJ just needs a place to stay tonight.”
Rick looked guilty. “I said she could stay on my couch. We’ll need to give her a ride.”
Leslie felt a little pit of tension in her stomach. She’d been looking forward to taking him back to her place… maybe making him breakfast in the morning. Her place, with her pillow-top mattress and her down comforter — it was still chilly in San Francisco. Her home, where every square inch didn’t have some kind of electronic device on it, where there wasn’t a big-screen TV and three different kinds of video game consoles strewn on the living room rug.
He looked at her. Sticky came very close to giving her Bambi eyes… a daunting prospect.
She’d be a bitch herself if she didn’t give in. “It’s your birthday,” she said brightly, giving Rick a little kiss on his jaw line. “You can do whatever the hell you want.”
Rick’s goofy grin reappeared. “I love you,” he said, enveloping her in a bear hug.
She looked at Sticky, imploring.
“I’ll go get her,” he said. “I’ll hurry her right along.”
“Great,” Leslie said.
She waited until Sticky disappeared into the crowd, heading toward the DJ booth. She turned to Rick. “Is PJ a friend of yours?”
The birthday shots were kicking in now, and he was having a little trouble focusing. “What?”
“This PJ… do you know her?”
“Huh? Oh. No. She’s a friend of Sticky’s, pretty much. I’ve heard lots about her, though,” he offered.
“You mean she’s a stranger?”
“Any friend of Sticky’s…” he said, and then paused. “Is more than likely to be nice. I think. And he wouldn’t let one of his dangerous friends stay at my house, Leslie,” he added.
Fabulous, she thought, gripping her car keys like a vise. Just fabulous.