CHAPTER 13: MELODY
I awoke to find myself staring up at a shadowy silhouette—a patch of woman-shaped darkness that was rimmed with a knife-edge of brilliance as the moving beams of the club’s lighting system strobed over her back.
“You awake?” she asked.
“I dunno…you real?” My face felt like putty and reality was still warped around the edges, but I’d regained some executive function. I pulled myself upright, feeling like I was trying to haul myself out of a dream. I was on a couch in the farthest, darkest corner of the lounge. I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. The other couches were empty, and down below, so was the stage. I got the feeling it was nearly dawn.
The dark woman standing over me held out a hand, palm down. I took it, unsure if I was supposed to shake it or kiss it but used it to pull her toward me. The dim glow off the stage resolved her face into the features of a Latina woman: twenty years old if she was a day, five feet tall if she was an inch. Her expression was impassive, but her eyes glittered with interest.
“You look like trouble,” I managed. The words seemed to take forever to come into focus, but at least I wasn’t slurring.
“Baby, I’m your worst nightmare.” Melody smiled showing all of her teeth and sank sideways onto my lap, knees together, ankles crossing primly. She drew a finger along my jaw line and trailed it down my throat, the hard edge of her press-on nail scraping my windpipe. My mouth went dry.
“So, you’re the great Damen Warner.” It wasn’t a compliment, but I still liked the shape her lips made around my name.
“That’s it? Just ‘oh’?”
“They say don’t ever meet your idols. Now I know why.”
I winced. “You’re pretty judgy for a cock-polisher.”
Melody sighed as if I’d disappointed her. “Why you gotta be like that?”
“Like everybody else.” Her disdain was breathtaking. “I thought you’d be different. Special. But you’re not. You’re nothing.” She got to her feet and the sudden vacuum of her absence felt like a physical pain.
“Heyy, c’mon, don’t go.” I reached for her, but she slipped back out of my reach.
“I gotta get back to work,” she said. “As a cock-polisher.”
“I’m sorry. C’mon, Imma asshole.”
“Yeah you are.”
“I’m still pretty fucked up…”
“Oh, you fucked up, alright.”
“Lemme make it up to you—gimme a chance to pull my head outta my ass.” I hated begging, but I didn’t want to be alone.
Melody stared me down, unblinking while she weighed her options. I stared back, falling into the pits of her eyes, helpless as a spider’s prey.
“Please, stay,” I said.
“You gonna make it worth my while?”
I fumbled in my pockets feeling for something to offer her but came up empty. Kilroy had all my cash. My hand closed on the festival laminate. I pulled it out and held it up to her.
“My pass for Lollapalooza.”
Melody took it out of my hand to inspect it. “This for real?”
“Don’t you need it?”
“What’re they gonna do? Not lemme on stage?” Yes, actually. It was an amateur move. There was a solid chance I’d get my teeth kicked in like Jaco Pastorius, but I wasn’t going to think about that right now.
“You gonna give this to me just to make me stay?” she asked. I could see her fingers tightening on the plastic like she didn’t want to let it go. I nodded.
Melody tucked the laminate in her purse and perched on the armrest beside me, waiting for the song to end. I put an arm around her hips and slipped the tips of my fingers under the hem of her dress. She slapped the back of my hand. Hard.
“You wait,” she commanded. I was suddenly so turned on that waiting was torture.
“It’s just going to come off in a minute,” I slipped my fingers up under the hem again. Melody grabbed my thumb and bent it backward.
“Wait,” she said again. I held up my free hand in surrender.
“Yes, ma’am.” She let go of my thumb and watched as I diligently laid it on the armrest beside her. Not touching. Melody gave a curt nod.
She took a mirror and a lipstick out of her purse and reapplied it, propping one foot on my knee and resting her elbow on it for support. I stared at the curve of her ankle and the oily sleekness of the long, tapered heel where it pressed against the inside of my leg. Melody flexed her foot so that her heel dug into my thigh, but she didn’t look at me. I could see up her skirt to where her panties peeked out from shadow. Her lips were like blood. I could feel heat pouring off of her body. My heart pounded in my chest like it was trying to escape.
“Hrightledeesngenlemen lastchancetgetcherdance.” The DJ mumbled his way through a last call and the brash chords of Yankee Rose reverberated through the club. Melody snapped the mirror-case closed and took her foot off my knee to stand up. She stripped off her dress revealing a matching bra-and-panties set, but her face was cold and distant. Detached. Professional. Businesslike.
Turning her back, she sank into my lap and leaned back across my chest. Her head settled on my shoulder and she raised an arm to tangle her fingers in my hair. From this angle I could see down the length of her torso—the ripe curves of her breasts filling my vision. My hand slid toward her stomach.
“Touch me and I’ll hit you,” she growled. “I’ll have you thrown out.”
“Throw me out tonight and I’ll be back tomorrow.” But my hand stopped and hovered mid-air. Melody placed her fingertips on my wrist and pushed my hand away; gently at first then firmly when I resisted.
“You don’t get to do whatever you want.” She pulled away and stood up, pressing her foot into my crotch to keep me at arm’s length. The more she pushed me away the more I wanted her.
“Imma red-blooded man, I can’t help it.”
“You’re not special—you’re pathetic,” she said. “All washed up.”
It wasn’t true. Was it? I felt a plunging sense of freefall as a vast maw of doubt opened in my mind.
“You’re wrong about me.” I tried to protest, but my voice broke in the middle.
“I’m playing Lolla, aren’t I?”
“I’m the frontman for a fucking chart-topping band—“
“I’ve got a gold record, I’ve been profiled in Rolling Stone—“
My spongy, sludgy mind flooded with emotion that I couldn’t name much less control. I could feel it welling up in my throat, choking me.
“Who the hell are you to judge me?” I croaked, almost voiceless. My hands were balled into fists so hard my fingernails dug into my palms. “I don’t need you. I can always find some pretty, young thing looking to make a bad decision.”
Melody took her foot off my dick and shrugged. “Okay, then.” She turned away and retrieved her dress from the floor.
I realized with dizzying clarity that she didn’t care. Actually didn’t care. No amount of fame would impress her. No amount of money would buy her affection. None of it mattered. I didn’t matter.
“Wait!” It came out as a sob and took me by surprise. “Don’t go—” My face crumpled and to my deepest shame I began to cry. Scalding tears ran down my face and my breath came in strangled hitches. “Please…”
Melody watched me with an expression of clinical interest, unmoved.
I managed to catch my breath and forced the rage and the sobs down deep into my chest and guts like a molten knot of tar. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I held my breath until I got lightheaded and then let it out. Carefully. Smoothly.
Melody rested her knuckles on one hip. “You done?” she asked.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Melody tossed away her crumpled dress and approached once more. She shed her bra, shed her panties, and stood before me completely, defiantly exposed, but I couldn’t look at her. She was the one who was naked, but it somehow seemed that I was the one who had something to be ashamed of.
“Look at me,” she commanded. I forced myself to meet her gaze. She raised a leg and rested it on my shoulder.
“Is this what you wanted?” she asked.
“Yes,” I whispered, with my face and neck burning with shame. But it was true. I ached for her in a way I’d never felt before about anyone.
“Then keep your fucking hands to yourself.”
I tucked my hands under my thighs and Melody pressed her lips to my forehead, leaving the mark of her lipstick behind.
She danced until the song ended, and then put on her dress and abandoned me to square her accounts with the floor host. I managed to make it to my feet, clinging to the wall for support and retreated to the bar like the abject wretch that I was. It was almost dawn. The club was nearly empty by now. A few straggling dancers dawdled near the DJ booth, pointedly ignoring the few lonely patrons scattered among the round-top tables who weren’t paying anymore.
Judge emerged from the office and made himself comfortable at the bar beside me.
“I see you’ve met our Melody,” he jabbed me in the forehead with a stubby finger. I nodded again, remembering the mark of lipstick she’d left on my face. I rubbed it away with the tips of my fingers and tried to gather my thoughts.
“Shit. I gave her my Lolla badge.” I groaned and put my head down on the bar. It was just now sinking in just what a bitch move that had been.
“Yeahh, you’re not getting it back.” Judge looked at me and sighed. “Melody had you alone for all of five minutes and already she’s got your dick in a vise. Game. Set. Match. You are fucked, my friend.”
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