Stella went to her bedroom and knocked. Tracy joined her, beating out a lengthy and complex tattoo; Tony’s voice complained; “Yo, man…”
“Okay!” Tracy said stridently. “Round one is over! Refreshments is in the lobby!”
Alegra’s sweet voice rang out; “We’re coming… I mean, we’re putting our clothes on…”
“Whoa,” Tony said at the door. Grinning, he staggered dramatically to fall into the sofa, and grabbed the dish of butter pecan Stella handed him. Alegra followed, shyly. Tony licked his bowl clean, fell across the length of the sofa into her lap; She set down her bowl and cradled his head.
“Tony needs to eat something,” Tracy whispered. “He got that blood sugar thing… Can you fry him some eggs or anything? I hate to ask you for anything…”
“Tone, how about some steak and eggs?”
“Trace, you too?”
He nodded sheepishly; “I hate to ask you for anything…”
“Oh, shut up, Trace,” she said, mockingly. “You’ll take anything I hand out, and you know it”
Alegra slid out from under Tony’s head. “I want a salad, too”
“Please, baby, don’t leave me!” Tony moaned, reaching for her legs. She side-stepped him neatly.
“I have to,” she said. “Karen can’t make a salad”
Tracy leapt, as soon as the giggles and whispers started in the kitchen, and ran for Stella’s bedroom. He wasted no time in prowling, but got right down to the hunt. Her bedside drawer contained some intriguing novelties, but that wasn’t what he wanted, just then… Lord, she was trusting. On the shelf of her nightstand, out in plain sight, a stack of spiral-bound notebooks. Grab an early one, bottom of the stack, and the top one– just a few pages written, try the next one down. He flipped through it. His own name jumped out at him, and he read the page. He took both books back into the living room. Tony folded his arms, eyeing him from under beetling brows.
“You tell her everything already?” he accused.
Tracy opened one of the books. “No, man, I ain’t told her nothing.” He looked up; “Seems like she knows already, don’t it?”
Tony sighed heavily. “Cocksucker.”
“Was I right?” Stella whispered in the kitchen Alegra rolled her eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was so big?” she said hilariously. “I’m still creaming… Feel my panties, I just put them on and they’re soaked.”
“Eewgh, nasty–” They fell silent, listening to the conversation in the other room.
“…Fine?” Tracy’s voice said.
“Trace, man, I’m not kidding…” There must have been a gesture; Tracy laughed.
“You know what,” Tony’s voice rose a little; “I pulled her shirt off, you know? And I felt something so soft on her back, and I looked, and they was feathers, all black and shining– She got wings, I swear it, like black angel’s wings coming down… Man, she stretched them up so high, and down over me…”
Alegra, chopping tomatoes, turned, tears in her eyes; “Is that what he really thinks?”
“Tone, that’s good,” Tracy’s voice said. “Can I write that down?”
“No, man, I ain’t joking.” Stella peeked in; Tony lay there, with eyes closed, smiling beatifically; “I’m talking about my future wife” he said.
“Maybe so,” Stella said, returning. “Didn’t you find the pointy tail in his pants?” They dissolved into giggles.
“Omigod, you can’t believe what he can do,” Alegra said. “He got my legs up under his arms, and said hold still–”
“You come every time he goes in.”
“Did he do that to you?” she demanded.
“No, Tracy did,” Stella said. Alegra stared towards the door. “As I understand it,” Stella said; “They both know the same tricks.” Alegra began giggling helplessly.
“Does Tracy have the same dick?” She grabbed the edge of the counter for support, laughing. Swinging up, she hugged Stella. “You gave me the best one!”
“No, I didn’t, I kept the best one for myself!” Stella guffawed. She nuzzled into the other girl’s neck, inhaling Tony’s smell, the tang of sex. “Oh, Mother, I got the best one. Oh, Alegra. Sweetheart. I had no idea…”
The boys raced to the loaded table. For at least fifteen minutes there were no sounds but guzzling, grunting, and, at last, sighs of repletion.
“I dig this kitchen.” Tracy gazed around in pleasure, at the bright forties kitsch on the walls and shelves, the touches of red, yellow and green paint on the woodwork. “Will you help me do this in my crib? Where do you find this stuff?” He picked up two dolls, a Mammy and a Mamacita, and examined them.
“Swap meets. They used to be real cheap, and now it’s all getting expensive…” Back when Stella had done her kitchen, she was scraping pennies together, in fact. “I could help you find stuff, if you want.”
“I do want,” he said. He’d helped her clear the table, worked at her side in the kitchen cleaning up, efficiently and deftly. Another facet of his personality… “This is the happiest I’ve been since this tour started, I swear it, hanging out in your Mexican kitchen. You Mexican, baby?”
“Mexican, Irish, Jewish, you name it.”
“Well, I want my kitchen to look just like this, so I can stand in it and remember you.”
“Oh, how fucking romantic!” she snorted. “Thank you! How about the bathroom, huh? You could name the toilet ‘Stella’.” Tracy grinned widely. “And all because you didn’t find angel’s wings under my shirt.”
“Did she hear that? Did she go for it?”
“She started crying. How come I don’t have angel’s wings too?”
Tracy pulled her tight to him. “Listen, you evil dame, all I found was a long tail with a point on the end, and you were trying to get it up my ass.”
“Damn” she said sadly. “I never could control myself.”
“Ooh-whee, baby.” He bit at her chin. “Listen, don’t you bother to try, baby, baby, baby… How ‘bout you ladies start getting ready? We gonna kill em tonight.” His internal clock was about to ring. Show time. The jitters starting, the jangling, rhythmic speech. Try to slow down, don’t scare her. “Getting ready for the funk” he said in explanation. “Showtime comin’, I gotta get loose…” He danced against her; she felt his heartbeat accelerating. “What you gonna wear? Wear that velvet thing again, okay? That red scarf, and that velvet thang… You was burning me down, the way you looked last night.” His energy was infectious. “Hey, hey, baby, listen, listen,” he said, jittering. “What your name is..”
“Karen,” she said dryly; he laughed.
“Damn, baby, you can’t argue with fate! Hey, close your eyes.” She did so, grinning suspiciously. He kissed her eyelids. “Take two deep breaths…” he told her solemnly. “Now, reach down, inside yourself, baby. You got a name in there, your real name. Listen for it, baby. Let it claim you– claim your name.” and he whispered it; “Stella.”
Last night, what had he said? “You’re Stella,” and she’d seen a fleeting vision; The seven-pointed star, the shield of the great goddess Astarte, the whore of Babylon. Yes, it was right, and she opened her mouth to tell him so, and was startled by a tug at her knees. Her eyes flew open. Tracy was kneeling before her, clinging to her legs.
“Stella, please, please, Stella, let me give you this name. You’re taking my life from me, don’t you see? What’s gonna be left of my masculinity– Lord, I hate to think. So at least I could say, I gave her that name…”
“Tracy Bell…” she said, helplessly. A glance into the other room showed Alegra, listening to Tony’s soft voice, but glancing their way, curiously. Somehow, she wanted to protect Tracy from the scrutiny of bystanders. Somehow, that had become Tony, and her own dear friend Alegra as well. She hunkered down to face him. “Tracy, stand up, please, baby?” He shook his head.
“I’m gonna crawl around after you, just like this,” he said in satisfaction; “Till I get an answer from you.” In exasperation, she tugged at his arms; they both overbalanced, and toppled together to the floor.
“Tracy Bell…” she said; “Meet Stella McKayne.”
Tracy shook his head, admiringly. Good timing. Kissing on the kitchen tile.
“They knew we were listening, when Tony said that.” Stella was perched on her bed, watching Alegra dress.
“I don’t care, it’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said about me,” Alegra said, dreamily. She had donned the dress Stella handed her; black, off-shoulders, its full skirt was slit to high up on both hips, and a red cummerbund set off her narrow waist. Stella piled her things into a bag, to bring back to the hotel, where her dress awaited her.
“Karen?” Alegra said; “If he asks me to go to Chicago, you think I should?”
“Sure, why not?” Stella said carefully. “Just save your money, and get a good agent.”
“Oh, now, what’s wrong?”
“Honey, I don’t know… Tracy keeps talking like that, and it just… Scares me, flat. I can’t believe it… I mean, he’d dump me, just so he could write a sad song about his broken heart, you know?”
“But Tony says it’s so. He says Tracy might ask you to marry him.”
“Joke– no way,” Stella said, shocked.
“No, really. He says you could walk him around on a chain if you wanted to… He’s all like; ‘That dame passed every test’ what test?”
“I don’t know,” Stella said, a little grimly. “I’m going to find out, though.” A thought struck her; “When did you have time to talk about me?”
“He said, you know, if Tracy wasn’t getting what he wanted? He would have kicked you out, you know? Taxi fare home.”
“Last night was about the best” Stella admitted. “It’s just… What was he wanting, that he was getting? ‘Cause I thought it was sex.”
“Maybe you should talk to Tony.”
“I just don’t believe in men who fall in love like that.”
“Well… Tony says he loves me.”
“And you believe him?” Stella demanded angrily. Alegra shrugged.
“Yes, I do… Why not?”
“Why not? Alegra, he’s a musician! On tour! You’re just a station on the way!”
“Well, why would he say it at all, then– for fun? But he knows he could have all that fun without saying anything at all, right? So would you just stop worrying about it please? My God, Miss Thing! I’ve never seen you this jumpy!”
“Well.” She heard her voice, and hated the whine; “He wants to change my name, like it’s not me but some fantasy he’s in love with. Stella, not Karen.”
“You know,” Alegra said wickedly, “It’s a perfect name for you. I think he’s absolutely right– Like, you always think you’re the big star, anyways.”
Stella held her tongue.
“That was fast.” Tony licked a rolled paper and twirled it between his fingers. He dropped it into the small log jam of joints on the table before him, and popped a new paper out of the folder.
“We’re models,” Alegra said. “We can do our faces in five minutes.” She giggled as Tony pulled her into his lap, nuzzling her.
“That’s good,” he said; “I can mess it up in one little minute.”
“Baby, can I bring this with me?” Tracy held it up for her to see.
“Shit!” she said in alarm. “How did you find that?” She sat down next to him, and because she didn’t grab for it, he gave it to her.
“It’s all about a girl named Karen McKayne,” he said smugly. “And her friends. You this freaky? Really?”
“This was not in my bookcase.”
“No, I got it out of your night stand, while you was cooking.”
“You knew just where to look!” she said in dismay.
“Yeah, same place I keep mine.”
“Oh, of course, I should have known. Well now I know where to look in your house…”
Tracy gave her his most melting look. “That’s why I told you,” he said softly. “I want you to know everything, and I want to know everything. Listen, here’s something I know about you; You’re a vampire, ain’t you? Like me. We feed off other people’s energy– well, I can keep you fed… Just feed me.” Stella squeezed her eyes shut.
“Oh, hey, don’t cry!” he said. “You just did your face, you wanna ruin it? What are you afraid of, Stella?”
“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s just that it sounds like something… I always wanted to hear… someone say to me… You make me feel like I didn’t know how alone I was– What was last night? a test?”
“Baby, of course it was, what else? Didn’t you test me, see if I was the right kind of freaky for you?” His breath came out in a gasp suddenly. “Oh, yeah… the way you said ‘yes’ last night.. And the way you loved Tony…”
“He’s easy to love.” She glanced over. “Alegra, you’d better not ruin that dress.”
“Stella, does she love him?”
“That’s what she’s telling me.”
Tracy shook his head, marvelling. “Too good to be true.”
“That’s just how I feel,” she said. “I really feel like that.”
“So, can I bring the diary?”
“You’ve got to bring me, too,” she said, and relaxed into his arms.
“I can’t wait to see you and Nicollette meet,” he said a little later. “I bet you’ll beat the shit out of each other first– You’re both such Alpha women…”
“What I’m saying is you ain’t so alone anymore, baby. There ain’t so many of us freaks– what did you say– polymorphous perverts– out there, but there’s you and me, and I know one other.”
“I hate sex,” she muttered, and he laughed.
“How much of this is true?” He tapped the notebook.
“Some… I’ll tell you later.” Hopefully, he would forget to ask.
“That thing at that club, where you got raped, is that true?”
–How does he find my weak spots?– Stella thought. –Which truth should I tell him?– “No, it didn’t happen,” she said at last.
“Ooh” He slitted his eyes at her. “Ooh, and you hate to admit it, don’t you?” Stella covered her face in dismay.
“See what I mean?” she said. “I’m too easy for you! You’re gonna get tired of me too quick.”
“I don’t think so… It’s weird, like I read myself in you…”
“Okay” she growled; “And now I know about this Nicollette dame, I know who ‘Tease Me’ is about– And I hope you sprained something, baby.”
“No– you hurt my professional pride, that’s all.”
He chortled. “Yeah, jealous.”
“Well… Here’s something no one else knows,” she said suddenly. “You’re the only one that knows the truth about that– that I didn’t get raped in the bathroom at that club.”
“People know about this?”
“Yeah… No one ever mentions it, but everybody gets kind of quiet when he’s around, or his music gets played… He even thinks it happened.”
“Damn!” His eyes gleamed. “Ooh, fearsome, wicked…”
“Someone asked him… And he couldn’t remember for sure. So a girlfriend brought me by while he was recording… Like we were on our way to a different session– ‘Oh, James, meet Karen’– and I’m acting sort of embarrassed. And later on, he came around and grabbed my friend in the hallway– saying; ‘Is she angry?’ and ‘Please tell her how sorry I am, and I hope she knows I was doing a lot of drugs back then’– Like enough that he can’t remember what he really was doing…”
Pure pleasure in his face, he asked her; “Did you ever fuck him?”
“Hell no! And spoil a perfect memory?”
“Oh, lord!” he laughed, high-pitched. “What a bitch…” He leapt to his feet, jigging around the room. Coming back, he leaned over her, hands on each side of her thighs as she sat;
“I know, I can see it,” he said, relishing the words. “You stood there in the hall with your little friend, and watched him go into the bathroom and the whole thing hit you in a rush, and you knew what you had to do, right? And you didn’t do it, too lonely that night, too shy, just to swing around and follow him in…” He reached, put his arms around her waist. “But dig this– you made it the truth.”
“That’s right,” she said, wonderingly. “You’re right. I raped him.”
“Ooh, you’re strange, baby, strange,” he sang. “I love it, love you!” he danced over to peer through the front window. “There’s a limo way, way down at the bottom of the hill, hill, hill, and I think it’s for us, us, us, let’s go!”
Pell-mell the four went, down the steep steps in the soft California twilight. And Stella thought to herself; –I will always remember this.–