I think it was worth the wait to get these two off to a cracking start, don’t you agree?
It’s been interesting for me to see where you’ve taken the voting already—I had an inkling of what was behind the way that Ruby’s behaving, but all you’ve done is solidified my thinking around that.
I’m so looking forward to getting to know Jesse and Ruby on a new level and I have so many plans for them both.
Enjoy the chapter and—DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!
Love Toni xx
I’d gotten used to women being uncomfortable around me, but I’d never experienced the degree of discomfort being around a woman that I felt with Ruby sitting across the table.
Something about the fascinating photographer, Ruby intrigued me to the point that it felt as if all my nerve endings were dancing to whatever potent song her body had been playing to me all morning.
I’d noticed her magnetic pull from the moment that she’d begun arranging the band for the photography shoot. The attraction had simply intensified the longer that I’d been sitting in the same room as her—to the point that I’d already decided that there was no way I’d be leaving this diner today without the opportunity to see her again.
Now all I had to do was convince her that was a good idea.
We’d danced around the surface of our—dare I believe it—mutual attraction.
I’d noticed the way her hands shook when she held the menu.
She’d ordered little to eat and had spent the last half hour picking around the edges of an eggplant roll-up.
My hot dog and fries had barely touched the sides, but now were threatening to make an abrupt escape from my stomach.
I had to settle the shit down, or I was in danger of making a complete fool of myself.
My track record with women wasn’t good.
Brought up with an absent mother and three brothers, being the eldest my father had expected me to take up the reigns of man of the house whenever he wasn’t around. Which was often, because he worked his arse off at two jobs to try to keep a roof over our heads.
Sworn off women for life himself, I lacked role models for how to behave with women.
The band were little help.
Living on the road for years hadn’t offered the chance to establish any kind of sensible relationships either. In fact, the closest I’d come to seeing anything that might have been a functional relationship had been watching Alannah and Steve try to cobble a relationship together—and that hadn’t turned out well.
Women terrified me.
But something about the way Ruby had taken charge of the photo shoot this morning spoke to me in a way that I still didn’t understand. But it also spoke to me in a way that I wanted to further explore—no matter what the consequences.
Small talk still did nothing for me and I didn’t know where to take the conversation next.
“So tell me what else you’re working on?” At least I could keep it to creative work, something that we had in common.
Ruby twirled a thick strand of her bright red hair between her fingers while she pondered the question that I’d put to her.
“I’m on the short list to work with a real investigative journalist,” she leaned back in her chair, her gaze lifting over my head, her mind obviously taking her somewhere far away from the diner where we presently sat. “It’s an opportunity to get away from here and do some real and meaningful work.” Her eyes dropped down to meet mine and my stomach did another one of those little insane lurches that it had been doing from the moment that I set eyes on her. “Instead of having to cover the plastic insanity that is the LA scene.”
“You think what we’re doing isn’t important?” I couldn’t help but feel affronted. I’d never met anyone before who hadn’t thought making music was anything less than amazing.
Ruby shrugged, dropping the piece of hair that she’d been twirling between her fingers and instead reaching for the half-full tumbler of water in front of her.
“I mean, it’s not as if you’re doing anything life changing or anything like that. I mean it’s just music. Meaningless entertainment, like so much of the rest of this town.”
My entire body tensed.
I wanted to yell the words out loud.
Music saved my life.
Music saved my sanity.
Music had given me a way out of the kind of life that I’d been destined to lead. The kind of life that I’d watched my father work himself into the ground doing.
How the fuck could she say it was, just music?
“Music means a lot to many people,” I replied, trying hard to quell the internal anger and panic that someone I found attractive could relegate the one thing that meant so much to me to ‘meaningless’.
The only thing that had kept me alive.
I’d done it again.
My attraction to Jesse had lulled me into some kind of sense of non-existent security.
Why couldn’t I keep my opinions about entertainment to myself? Especially working in the field that I’d been working in.
Of course this man thought he was some kind of musical God.
They all did.
I could tell by the grim mask painted on Jesse’s face that I’d crossed some imaginary line.
Music didn’t mean a thing to me and now I’d probably crushed his fragile ego. They were all the same, the people who worked in the entertainment industry.
Thought they were something more than they were.
Most of them even began to believe their own bullshit. The kinds of magazines that I worked for—would soon no longer be working for, I reminded myself—just blew more smoke up the ass of men like Jesse Davis.
I had to get that job. I needed to get away from these kinds of people. I longed to work with real reporters, following real stories.
“You don’t like music?” Confusion had quickly covered the initial hurt that crossed Jesse’s face. I could tell by the tone of voice he used to ask the question that he had no comprehension of anyone’s blasé attitude to the medium that he engaged in.
I shrugged. “I can take it or leave it.”
“But you’re covering bands in one of the hot spots in the world for musical entertainment.”
“I know, right? But like everyone, I’ve still got to pay the rent.”
He seemed to understand, but I knew he really didn’t.
How did I expect anyone to understand a person who worked in a town that fostered dreams of the impossible? The woman behind the counter in the diner probably left here after her shift and headed with hoards of women who looked just like her to casting calls.
It’s easy to keep people in menial jobs that they hate when you hang the carrot of ‘stardom’ and ‘fame’ in front of them to appease their daily grind.
Jesse seemed different to the other ‘famous’ people that I’d met. Maybe he just hadn’t been living here long enough for the fake tan and fake teeth to wear him down.
‘Fame’ and all of its associated baubles terrified me.
From what I’d seen, it had the ability to take talented, interesting people and turn them into a homogenised version of whatever was the in thing at the moment.
I’d always railed against the norm and had no desire to be a part of the great brawling herd. Something about Jesse had piqued my interest and the more I spoke to him, the more I realised that he was only at the beginning of his musical journey.
He hadn’t been homogenised… Yet.
What I had to decide was whether it was worth my time to take a chance on getting to know him. Especially if I knew the trajectory of the journey his life would likely take.
“So what would you rather be doing than arranging guys like me in front of murals?”
Jesse’s question hit me like a ray of hot Californian sunshine.
When was the last time anyone had asked me about my dreams or my ambitions? Especially someone who I’d been pointing a camera lens at.
This man was different.
If he kept up this kind of questioning, I might decide after all that he was worth taking a risk on.
“I want to work with real investigative journalists. Breaking stories that matter.”
“And a new band on the LA scene doesn’t matter?”
There he went, behaving like every rising star that I’d ever met, turning the conversation back around to him. It was time for me to leave.
“It’s not the same,” I said as I stood up and made to make my way out from the booth.
Jesse mirrored my action and somehow managed to get between me and the stream of people who were passing the narrow alleyway between the booths.
“Hey, hey. I was joking.” He scrubbed his hand through the long blond strands of his hair. He really should have been out on a surfboard. I struggled to imagine him up on stage, surrounded by musical paraphernalia. It seemed so out of character for the way he looked.
“Look,” Jesse tried to appease me, but I was already trying to find a gap in the snarling mass of humanity so I could make a break around him and head for the door. “Don’t take offence. I’m a Kiwi, sometimes you guys don’t understand my particular brand of humour.”
“A Kiwi?” He’d caught me off-guard with his sincerity and he’d piqued my investigative interest with the word.
“It’s a colloquial name for a New Zealander. I come from the bottom of the world.”
I nodded, “Hobbit habitat.”
He rolled his eyes, the action having more of an effect on me than I wanted to admit right at this moment. Why did I find this man so damn attractive?
He stood for everything that I despised.
A shallow musician, chasing fame in a town that chewed up and spat out people like him on a daily basis.
Yes, Jesse had an edge about him that kept my curiosity engaged.
Or was it my libido that had taken the bait?
“There’s more to us than Peter Jackson and Hobbits,” he replied, his face sporting an expression that sent a direct message to the centre of my sexual desire.
No-one did this to me.
My danger alert went stratospheric while the rational, enquiring part of me struggled with the question forefront in my mind.
Whether I wanted to find out if there was more to this man than supposed hobbits and flightless birds.
I spotted a gap in the human river that continued to swirl around us and made a break for the door.
“Look,” he said standing uncomfortably close to me as we both made our way past the reception area of the diner. “I’d like to catch up with you again. Maybe go on a proper date. I play most nights, so it would have to be something during the day.”
“I don’t think so,” I found myself shaking my head in rather a violent manner.
Even standing this close to him had become fraught.
Danger signals in my head were competing with my body’s desire to reach out and touch the man.
I didn’t need this kind of conflict in my life right this minute.
I was on the cusp of making a name for myself as a photo journalist.
A bad boy bass player from New Zealand just wasn’t part of the plan.
* * *
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