In the cups [Also on iTunes and SoundCloud]

This week's Saturday on SoundCloud piece. Originally posted December 2015.

Here’s more of that true romance from the seventies I last wrote about in E Ticket to Ride. Do I really remember the color of Lena’s couch? No but I remember Derek.

In the Cups

Derek was already there when I walked into Lenas place. Viviana was sitting in the corner of a love seat, Derek straddling a kitchen chair, facing her. He was making her laugh about something, her lips curved over flashing white teeth and I wished I could walk right back out the door. 

I could see he’d come straight from work. His idiotic wig was off but he was still wearing his white work shirt. Leaning forward, tails untucked, his pale blond hair and shirt were bright in the otherwise darkened room, caught by the light coming from the kitchen. The same light that lit up Viviana’s mouth. Lena, grinning from the kitchen door, beckoned me over. 

Thanking me for coming, hugging me to her warm, soft body, she gave me a plate of little sausages wrapped in golden brown pastry to put on the coffee table. They looked like miniature versions of the sausage rolls my mum picked up from the English shop except, besides being a whole lot smaller, it was clear Lena had baked these herself. 

She was positively delirious about the way things were going. I was positively not. After I put the appetizers on the coffee table, I tried to decide what to do next. I knew what I should do, go over and say hello to Viviana. But I couldn’t. 

Lena’s apartment wasn’t much more than the one L-shaped room we were in; the living room with a green floral patterned couch facing a tv set, a matching love seat, a dining area where a group of older women were sitting at a dinette set, the small galley kitchen, a hallway, more like a small square than a hall, barely big enough to turn around in, with three doors. The doors on the left and right opened to bedrooms, the door in the middle, the closed door must be the bathroom. I could hit the bathroom, hide out in there for awhile. That was my usual modus operandi. Sit fully clothed on the toilet. Wait for the panic to subside. Except I couldn’t, the bathroom door was locked. 

I knew I should force myself to walk over to where Viviana and Derek were sitting. It was just a few feet away. A glance away. Instead I sat on the corner of the couch, and looked everywhere else. I smiled at a couple of young women I knew by sight as checkers at the market. Derek must have seen me come in. Or was he so taken with her he really didn’t notice me at all? I feigned interest in the books and bric-a-brac Lena had on a small shelving unit against the wall. A couple of Hummel-like figurines on lace doilies, a fluted green vase, it’s narrow opening too small for even a single flower, an ornate bone china platter with flowers around the edges and a gold palace in the center. On the top shelf, framed photographs of Lena’s family back home. Wherever back home was. Germany? Holland? Belgium? I half-wanted to pick up the plate, look at the back, maybe that would give me a clue. 

“Hey!” Derek was suddenly there, squatting in front of me. “I didn’t see you come in.” A long strand of hair fell over his glasses, silver aviators. I wanted to slip it back behind his ear. “Weren’t you even going to say hi?” 

“I only just got here. I was, um, I just—” I just what? Lacked chutzpah? “I was just about to.” Sure I was. “Hi.” I looked over to where Derek had left Viviana, she was laughing with a couple of the employees who worked at the theater across the street. Sometimes we’d give them chicken and they let us in the theater for free. I wondered if Lena knew. “Viviana looks like she’s having a good time. It was nice of Lena to throw her a party.” 

“Yeah. Lena’s cool. So how’d you get here? I looked for you after work. I promised Lena I’d give Viv a ride. You could have come with us.”  

Viv. How long before it was Vivvie, I wondered.So that’s why he’d disappeared so quickly. Lately, even when he punched out before me, I’d run into him just outside the store. He’d be sitting at one of the concrete tables, smoking a cigarette. I’d thought maybe he was stalling, hoping to see me. 

“I had to go home and change.” Get away from the onion smell that insisted on clinging to my clothes. Feverishly try to scrub away all traces of the smell that seeped into my skin, digging its way deep under my nails. I’d put on new bellbottom jeans, bleached light blue in the kitchen sink, an embroidered Mexican peasant blouse I’d bought in Olvera Street. A pair of wedge sandals. 

“You look nice.” 

Nice. “Anyways, I better say hi to Viviana.” I saw her sneaking peeks at Derek and me when she thought I wasn’t looking. I smiled over to where she was standing with her new friends in the kitchen doorway. Waved my fingers. “Then I think I’m going to get going.”    

“Going?! You just got here.” 

“Yeah, I know but—” 

But what? But I didn’t want to stick around and see him and Viviana—Viv, Vivvie—get together?

“How’d you get here?

“Walked.” I was such a lame-o, I was 19 and I didn’t drive. It would be another year or so until I got my own car, in the meantime, even though Santa Monica is an acolyte of L.A., I did without wheels. I took the bus, walked, begged rides from my parents. “It’s just a couple of blocks.” 

“Stay a little while and I can give you a ride home.”

“Oh, you don’t have to—” 

“Please? I want to. But I should stay a little while longer, okay?”

“Sure, okay.” 

He went to the kitchen and came back with a couple of sodas—there wasn’t any alcohol, it wasn’t that kind of party—and we shared a plate of Lena’s sausage rolls. 

Viviana came over and sat on the edge of the coffee table and showed us some pictures of her family, her boyfriend that she already missed so much. She didn’t know how she was going to bear being without him for the whole summer. When Derek got up to see if he could find some decent music on Lena’s radio, something other than the Carpenters, Viviana nudged me.

“Nice boy, right?”

“Derek?” I said through a grin I couldn’t keep down, “Yeah, he’s a nice boy.” 

“He likes you very much. You know this, right?” 

“He does?!” 

“Shhh.” I looked up as Derek sat back down, a paper plate full of cookies in one hand, in the other, three fresh sodas in red cups gripped by the fingers like holes in a bowling ball. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t any alcohol in the cups, I felt dizzily off kilter, happy, and drinking nothing but soda, more than just a little bit drunk. 

The Whole Derek Story

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