The young assistant reluctantly grows closer to the veteran songwriter mentoring her. 1,697 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Unspoken words screamed between us when I picked up Jake curbside at Burbank airport after his trip up north. I had never responded to his evocative email and It hung heavily in the air. We had a quick sushi meal, then he commanded me to drop him at his Hollywood bungalow without saying much at all. There was no communication over the weekend or on Monday. I worried that my lack of openness had pushed Jake away. Did I blow my shot with him? What about my job? It made me want both more.
Tuesday morning I held my breath until around eleven when Jake finally called. I jumped for the ringing phone.
“Hello?” I tried not to sound eager.
“How about you pick me up for lunch and then we get on with what we do?”
“Yes, I’ll be there by noon.” I sighed relief.
We resumed our usual songwriter/assistant deeds as our work week got rolling. There was an acute sexual tension inherent to our escapades. We had a blast running errands and laughing. Halfway through the day, Jake took the wheel and drove my car toward the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art. A new Modigliani exhibit had opened and Jake had added it to our work agenda.
“Now I know one of a songwriter assistant’s duties is to take field trips to museums,” I teased as Jake parked. “I’m learning as we go.”
“He was one of my mother’s favorites,” Jake shared. He gestured to the artist’s photo. “She always said that her mother’s side of the family shared physical attributes with the Modigliani family. Perhaps lineage had been crossed in a past generation.”
I smiled, “Or maybe in past lives.”
“You’re big on that, aren’t you?”
“You and Hudson Black said it in the song you had me work on. What more present proof of a past life do we need if the energy is clearly still alive? Once love lives it’ll never die,” I paused, chewed on the sentiment then looked to Jake for guidance. “There ain’t no need for goodbye?”
“That’s a lyric if I’ve ever heard one, even with the double negative slang.”
My heart cartwheeled. Like every moment spent with Jake, I was exactly where I was meant to be, at the precise moment I was meant to be there. Of that I was certain.
Jake used to annoy the fuck out of me. He’s a 58-year-old legendary songwriter/recording artist who’s written tons of hit songs for notable artists on the seventies Laurel Canyon music scene. As well, Jake has enjoyed a pretty successful acting career over the years. Also, he’s a notorious ladies man/lothario who has been romantically linked to a plethora of beautiful iconic female singers. By contrast, I’m thirty years younger than Jake and hired to transcribe his lyric journals for an upcoming album, but also to perform unclear personal assistant tasks. I’m a struggling actress/writer and still hopeful that working for Jake will be my ticket into the Hollywood elite.
But since the last time I’dseen him, Jake would not leave my mind or my body. He had taken over. I absolutely loved him and I hated myself for it. I hated him for it, too. “Why, why, why?” I had asked my empty bedroom while he was traveling. Now that he was back, I wanted to slip my arms around him and kiss him right there on the spot. The setting and the moment were perfect, but I couldn’t do it. I cursed our age difference silently. I disengaged from his hold and felt guilty over his obvious disappointment. I considered making a declaration, to justify my stance that I have to get away from him.
The exhibit ended at a gift shop. I ignored Jake as he filled his arms with Modigliani souvenirs. His eyes still followed me. It made me nervous.
Outside, Jake opened my passenger door for me, indicating that he would be driving. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a CD.
“I brought a treat for us.” It was part of an audio set of Charles Bukowski reading his poetry near the end of his life. Had Jake remembered that I’d been digging on Bukowski the first time we spoke on the phone?
“I made a mental note to buy the set for you the very first time we spoke on the phone.”
He’d answered my thoughts. Our eyes met.
“You know what I love about you, Cowboy?”
“You listen and you remember.”
“My dear,” he said, “you are easy to hear and impossible to forget,” he touched my face. “Know that.”
My heart and mind ran a race against one another. Jake started the engine.
“How about an early Mexican dinner near the ocean with Hudson and me? His studio is in Santa Monica. You transcribed his work. Shit, you even developed our lyrics. You should meet him,”
Jake steered the car west.
Oh my God, I thought: Hudson Black is fucking legendary!
Jake was introducing me to his people and pushing me to give in to his advances. Oh, how I wanted to, but the threat of intimacy was stifling, if not crippling. I yearned to be myself around him, but I was self-conscious of my every move, and his as well. He turned up the volume and smiled as Bukowski’s bass-heavy voice boomed out.mEvery move Jake made told me he was falling in love with me. Part of me needed to resist. Another part was having too much fun not to give in.
As we trekked across Los Angeles toward the ocean, we discussed Bukowski’s poems, rewinding passages that needed a second and third listening. I took out our matchbox of marijuana and loaded up a one-hit-wonder. I lit the pipe and passed it to Jake. Exhaling thorough the sunroof, I wondered if I had ever been so content.
“Can I ask you a question, Cowboy? Have you ever done this before?”
“Not even remotely.”
“Do you think there’s anyone else driving around L.A. right now smoking dope listening to Bukowski’s poetry?”
“That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?”
His voice cracked. “You’re pretty cool.”
Jake’s eyes pleaded with mine. He picked up my hand. I snatched it away, using the stereo dials as an excuse. I caught the pained look on his face and my mouth turned dry. He looked like a puddle of a man. I felt awful. Against my will, I was falling more in love with him than I had ever been. There was nothing I could do about it. The tension between us was unnerving.
Jake parked my car. We walked side-by-side to La Cancion around the corner from Hudson’s recording studio. The hostess seated us on the patio. We ordered chips and guacamole and a round of margaritas to hold us over while we waited for Hudson.
“Are you a fan of Hudson’s music?” Jake asked.
My cheeks burned. “I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of Hudson Black until I met you. But, trust me, now I’m studying up and loving what I hear.”
Jake raised his eyebrows, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t heard of Hudson Black”
“I guess I’ve been living under a rock.”
“I can’t wait to tell him. His Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction was announced last week. You’ll have to congratulate him,” Jake poked fun.
“Yes, I’m sure I’ll feel confident enough to do just that.”
“You better feel confident,” he rubbed the back of my hand, “because you’re with me.”
“Thank you. That is comforting.”
“Speaking of comfort,” he segued, “I’m staying at a hotel on the beach tonight while my landlord repairs my bungalow for the next couple of days. We should go for a walk along the shore.”
“Okay,” I took a swig of my margarita to mask the fear that arose at just the thought of walking on the beach with Jake.
We finished our first round of margaritas when Hudson arrived. Jake introduced me as if I were a celebrity whom Hudson should be honored to meet, “Hudson, this is Sicily Terrentini,” he sang my name, “my new partner in crime.”
“Very cool,” said Hudson, reaching for my hand. “Any partner of Jake’s is one of mine.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hudson,” I shook his hand, already self-conscious.
“Sicily has no idea who you are!” Jake blurted.
“Even cooler,” Hudson kissed the top of my hand.
I felt as awkward as possible. Jake beamed. He leaned across the table and pinched my cheek. I wanted to die. The waitress came with another round of margaritas and Jake toasted, “To the clarity of the present moment and the prosperity of the future.”
I looked both men square in the eyes as we all clinked glasses. I marked the moment as one to never forget. Then Jake made it even more memorable.
“Sicily’s been working with my words,” he told Hudson. “Typing up my journals. Rendering lyric clarity from chaos. She’s a natural. Hudson, you remember that piece we started just before the New Year?”
“Sure. ‘Proof Of Life Past?’ Something like that?”
“That’s the one. Man, she worked it out for us. Made it real nice. Even changed the title to ‘Present Proof Of Past Life.’”
“I can dig that. Send it to me, Jake. I’d like to check it out.”
“Will do,” Jake turned to me, “Will you remind me, Sicily?”
“YES!” I yelled then gathered myself. “I mean, yes.” Holy shit, I thought.