Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bachelor Number Five - Chapter Four

It's that time of the week again!  Time for another installment from my forthcoming novel, Bachelor Number Five.  This week, our heroine Amanda makes the big move west!  So without further ado...

Chapter Four

After three days motoring along the lonely highways of Nebraska and Colorado, Utah, Nevada and eastern California, the rush of traffic as Amanda entered the outskirts of Los Angeles made her decidedly uneasy.  She’d never seen so many cars in all of her life.  In fact, she probably saw more cars in one hour on the Los Angeles freeways than she’d ever seen before combined.  When the downtown LA skyline came into view it was hard to keep her eyes on the road.  She’d seen plenty of photos of big cities but nothing prepared her for the awe she felt at seeing for herself these enormous buildings reaching for the heavens.  She wanted to stop her car to get out and stare but there was nowhere to pull over.  When Amanda slowed too much she was met with a chorus of honking horns.  Instead of gawking, it was decidedly best to concentrate on where she was going, easing from the 10 freeway to the 101, the Hollywood Freeway.  Just the name made her pulse race.  Was it really true?  Was she really here?  Had she actually done it?  Seeing the huge white letters of the Hollywood sign on the hills above was as definitive an answer to that question as she could hope for.  Amanda had arrived.  Her new life began today.
Exiting at Santa Monica Boulevard, Amanda drove west, following the directions on her phone through a maze of city streets, right on Highland, left on Fountain, until she came to North Citrus Avenue.  Her street.  She turned right and continued along a residential block, past small apartment buildings and single family homes.  She wanted to roll down her window and shout out to passers-by, “Hello neighbors!  I live here, too!”  Instead she gripped tightly to the steering wheel, slowing to read the street numbers as she moved past.  The neighborhood didn’t seem so bad.  The buildings were well-maintained.  The lawns well taken care of.  These weren’t the mansions of the stars, but they weren’t slums either.  She could live in a place like this.
Amanda saw the sign before she saw the number, arching over a concrete walkway between two wings of the same building.  “Hollywood Sunset Apartments,” it read.  The building itself was two-stories high and colored a faded pink, with a lawn and garden in the middle anchored by a burbling stone fountain.  This was the place.  A stairway toward the back led up to a second-floor veranda.  On the right hand side she spotted what must be here new apartment.  Number seven.  This was it.  Amanda was home.
Driving to the end of the block, Amanda turned right and found a parking spot around the corner.  Any apprehension she’d felt about making this move was overwhelmed by sheer euphoria that she’d actually done it.  She only wondered why she’d waited so long.  For the first time in a very long time, Amanda felt fully alive.  Starting from today, her life was entirely her own.

Walking up the stairs of her new building with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder, Amanda hoped that her new roommate would be home.  She’d spoken with Lauren the night before but Amanda was here an hour earlier than she’d expected to be.  Worst case, she could always wait.  When she got to the top of the stairs she was relieved to see that the door to the apartment was open.  Amanda was a little bit less at ease when she heard strange noises coming from inside.  “Ayyy-yah!  Yah, yah, yah!” a man’s voice shouted.
Amanda eased herself to the doorway and peered around the edge.  “Yah, yah, yah!” said the voice.  Inside the apartment, a man dressed head to toe in a Spiderman outfit kicked, squatted and spun around in karate poses, watching himself in a full-length mirror.  Amanda froze, unsure whether to announce her presence or back away slowly.  She looked to the number on the door just to make sure.  Number seven.  She looked back to the brown leather couch, wooden coffee table and green walls with old-fashioned movie posters hanging on them.  This was the place all right.  Just like the photos.  She was about to clear her throat when a woman about her age walked out from a back hall.  The girl was tall and thin, with long brown hair tied back in a pony-tail.  She wore a brown sweater with blue jeans, and sandals on her feet.
“Oh, it’s you!” The girl stopped in her tracks.  “I didn’t expect you so soon!”
Spiderman stood up straight and turned to face Amanda, his head tilting back in surprise as he peered at her through the fabric of his costume.
“Am I interrupting something?” Amanda asked with some hesitation.
“What?!” said the girl.  “No!  Darren is just being a goofball!  Come on in.”
Amanda took a few steps into the apartment and put her bag on the floor.  Spiderman reached up with one hand and pulled his mask off over his head to reveal the face of a young black man in his early 20’s with short hair and a handsome face.  “Sorry if I frightened you there, I didn’t know anybody was watching.  I’m Darren.”  He reached out a hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Amanda.”  She shook his hand.  “Are you in a movie or something?”
“Ha, doesn’t he wish!” the girl laughed.  “I’m Lauren.  Welcome to Hollywood.”
“Thanks!” said Amanda, breaking into a broad smile.
“I’ll show you your room.”
Amanda walked through the living room and followed Lauren into the back hall.
“That’s my room on the right,” said Lauren.  “The bathroom is here in between us.  Your room is down there on the left.  The sheets on the bed are clean.”
“Oh, I appreciate that.”  Amanda walked into her new bedroom and dropped her duffel on the floor.  The room was small but clean, with a full-sized bed under a flowery green comforter, a small desk and a chest of drawers.  A hardwood floor was partially covered by a brown rug.  The white walls were bare but for a cork bulletin board hanging above the desk.
“I cleared out a shelf for you in the bathroom!” said Lauren.
 Amanda stepped back into the hall and peeked into the bathroom.  It too was small but clean, with a green rug on the floor and cream-colored tiles on the walls.  Lauren’s makeup, curling iron and hair drier were shoved into a series of shelves built into one wall.  One shelf, on the bottom, was free.
“I made some room for you in the kitchen, too,” said Lauren.  Amanda followed her back through the living room, where Darren was now sitting on the couch and occupied with his phone.  The kitchen was off to one side, connected to the living room by a large doorway.  Lauren opened the refrigerator door.  “You can have the two bottom shelves,” she said with a nod.
“Ok,” said Amanda, taking it all in.
Lauren shut the door and opened a cabinet nearby.  “You can put your other food in here, when you get some.”
“Is there a supermarket nearby?”
“Yeah, there’s a Ralph’s on La Brea.”
“Where is that?”
“You are fresh off the boat, aren’t you?”
“What boat?”
“Give the girl a break,” said Darren.  “It’s not like you’re a native.”
“Look who’s talking,” Lauren replied.
“Hey, at least I come from the same state!”
“Don’t go pulling that card on me.  Phoenix is closer to LA than Oakland.”
“Physically, maybe, but spiritually it’s light years away.”
“Um, if you guys don’t mind, I’m just going to bring up the rest of my things,” said Amanda.
“Knock yourself out,” said Lauren.  “Do you need some help?”
“Sure,” Amanda shrugged.  “That would be great.”
“Let’s go, Spiderman.  The girl needs help.”
Darren rolled his eyes and got to his feet, tossing his phone onto the coffee table.  “Fine, I’ll put my spider strength to the test.”
“None of my things are all that heavy.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t really have spider strength.  But don’t tell anybody.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
Amanda followed Darren out the front door with Lauren right behind.  “Do you live in the apartment, too?”  Amanda asked Darren when they got to the stairs.
“Me?!  Nah, I live next door in number six.”
“But you two are?...” Amanda didn’t know if she should come right out and ask.
“A couple?” said Lauren.
“Well, um…” Amanda stammered.  “Yeah.”
“Yes,” Lauren answered.  “We are a couple.  Any other questions?”
The three of them continued down the stairs and out toward the street.  “Just one, for now,” said Amanda.  “Why the Spiderman costume?”
“Spidey here poses with tourists up at the Chinese Theater.  You know, on Hollywood Boulevard?”
“Um, ok,” said Amanda.  “For fun?”
“No, man, not for fun,” said Darren.  “I let them take their picture with me.  If I’m lucky they give me some money.”
“Oh, so that’s kind of like your job?”
“Part-time.  A little extra, you know?”
“Does it pay pretty well?”
“I’ve done a lot better since I switched to Spiderman.  I used to be Lando Calrissien, but no Midwestern tourist wants to give money to a black man.  This way they have no idea.  They think it’s Peter Parker under here!”
“Race had nothing to do with it,” said Lauren.  “Lando Calrissien was just a lame-ass costume.  Nobody even knew who you were supposed to be!”
“Lando Calrissien was an awesome costume!  Everyone knows Lando, come on!  I’m telling you, that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was, not everyone’s as open-minded as you are!”
Lauren shook her head.  “Fine.  I still think Spiderman is just a better costume.”
“My car is over here.”  Amanda led them up the sidewalk.
“It’s not like posing with tourists is all I do,” said Darren.  “I’m an actor.”
“Like everyone else around here,” said Lauren.
“You, too?” Amanda asked.
“Me?  No way.”
“She’s too good for it,” said Darren.
“Come on, that’s not fair.”
“Lauren’s an accountant.”
“Huh,” said Amanda.  She was expecting something more… glamorous.
“I know, it’s boring,” said Lauren.
“I’m sure it’s a great job.”
“I’ve got security anyway, which is more than Spiderman over here can say.”
“This is my car right here,” Amanda motioned.
“That’s all of your stuff?” Lauren looked through the window.
“That’s it.”   Amanda unlocked her car and opened the passenger door.  Despite their lighthearted bickering, she had a good feeling about these two.  They were all going to be good friends, she was sure about it.  She’d travelled two thousand miles to an entirely new environment, but she knew already that she would not be alone.  It was a comforting realization.  Amanda handed a box to Darren.  From the back seat she pulled out a laundry basket full of clean clothes and handed that to Lauren.  In her own arms, Amanda piled a comforter, a pillow and a basket full of soaps, shampoos and other toiletries.  Walking back to the apartment, she could hardly see over the top of her load.
“Do you want me to take those soaps?” said Lauren.   “You can put them on top of this laundry.”
“That’s ok, I got it.”
They made their way back into the complex and started up the stairs, Amanda in the front.  She felt her way with her feet, unable to see the steps ahead of her.  When she was nearly to the top, Amanda heard a man’s voice shout “Look out!” but it was too late for her to react.  Instead she collided headlong into the person, her basket and pillow tumbling to the stairs.  Amanda was left clutching to her comforter as she watched her toiletries roll down one step after another.
“I’m really sorry,” said the man.  “I should have been paying better attention.”
Amanda looked up to find the owner of the voice standing right in front of her, holding his own phone in one hand.  He was handsome.  Shockingly handsome, with deep blue eyes, boyish features and sandy brown hair carefully trimmed.  He wore a charcoal grey suit, white shirt, no tie.  When their eyes met, Amanda’s heart trembled just a little bit. 
“Nice going, Pete!” said Lauren.
“No, it was my fault,” said Amanda.
Pete put his phone in his pocket and moved past before reaching down to pick up the basket and then begin retrieving her items one at a time.  When he’d scrambled for the last of her toiletries, he came back up and rested the basket on top of her comforter.
“You got it?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“I really am sorry about that.”  He gave Amanda a quick look up and down, as if doing a quick calculation as to who she was and what she was doing there, though he didn’t bother to ask.  Instead he retrieved his phone from his pocket and then skipped on down the steps and away.
“Who was that?” Amanda asked.
“That was Peter.  He hates it when I call him Pete.  That’s why I call him Pete,” said Lauren.  “Or Petey.  He hate’s that even more.”
“Does he live here?”
“Unfortunately he’s apartment number eight, right next door.”
“I take it you don’t like him much?”
“Not so much.”
Lauren picked up Amanda’s pillow and they continued on up and inside.  “So what’s his problem?” Amanda pressed the issue.
“He’s a party boy,” said Darren.  “Big time clubber.”
 “I just don’t like those skanks he always brings home,” said Lauren.
“What clubs does he go to?” Amanda asked.
“I don’t know.  The clubs where the skanks hang out.”
“Do you ever go to those places?”
“Do I look like a skanky ho to you?”
“No, I guess not,” said Amanda.
“You guess not?”  Lauren seemed defensive.  “Not that I don’t like to have a good time, but no, I don’t go to those places.  I’m more of a House of Blues type of girl.  I like live music, not dressing like a slut to shake my booty to a bunch of electro-pop.”
“Ok, forget I asked,” said Amanda.  Apparently she’d struck a nerve, though she had no idea why.  They moved on into the apartment and dropped off their loads in Amanda’s room before heading back to the car for another load.  When all of her things were inside, Amanda began unpacking, putting some of her clothes in the dresser and hanging the rest on hangers in the closet.  Her few boxes she stacked along the far wall before looking around the room to take stock.  This was home.  She would be comfortable here.  It was missing something, though.  Perhaps if there was something on the walls, maybe that would liven the place up a little.
Amanda opened the desk drawers and looked through them one after another.  They were mostly empty but in one she found some office supplies; paper clips, staple remover and a small pair of scissors.  She took out the scissors and then rummaged through her boxes until she found her magazine.  Amanda flipped through it until she found the picture of Bachelor Number Five standing bare-chested on the beach.  She cut out the photo and then took a tack from her bulletin board, stuck it in the top of the photo and pinned the photo onto the board.  It was a little bit of indulgence, but why not?  If she ever got homesick or lonely, maybe this would remind her of why she’d come so very far away.

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