Would it be too forward of me to sit on your lap?
The book starts with 'The End' in which the narrator Tracy Price is nervously waiting to face musician Jesse Elliot in some kind of court case. She starts by announcing that he has made three attempts on her life, not to end it, but to ruin it.
She's scared to look at him, not because he's frightening, but because he had, and still has, the ability to rattle her brain and make her seem crazy -- even to herself.
That opening ends with Jesse asking Tracy to talk to him. She says she's not allowed to.
Then she remembers meeting him, in Chapter One, below.
An excerpt from Exit Signs by Patrice Locke published by Soul Mate Publishing, Sept. 28, 2016
Available for pre-order on Amazon
Though I had a career I loved as a researcher for an independent video production company, I had to take side jobs to supplement my income. That’s how I met Jesse, a minor member of the pantheon of rock and roll gods, who hired me to give him feedback on the memoir he was writing.
My friend Rick works as a concierge for visiting movie people and he recommended me, based on confidential ghost writing I had done for several actors who wanted lines they could “spontaneously” offer during table reads. Rick was an excellent salesperson for me, as well as a perfect husband to my best friend Randi.
I’d never heard of Jesse. He was the world’s least-known, well-known person. Online I found confessions of love for him and tirades of hate, and pretty much nothing in-between. He made the world bi-polar for some reason I couldn’t quite work out.
I learned he was a prolific songwriter and accomplished pianist, famous for not being famous. He kept his personal affairs private. He didn’t appear in gossip magazines or on tabloid TV.
One journalist wrote, ‘He can walk around unrecognized, but he rarely goes unnoticed.’ There were fragments of information about him everywhere, but no big picture.
He was like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles of snow scenes or white cats, scads of monochromatic pieces that will eventually fit together, after the person assembling them—that would be me—sheds some tears of rage and frustration.
Celebrities are common in my hometown, Albuquerque, because New Mexico is a movie-friendly state, with vast vistas that make great backdrops for old-time Westerns and work just as well for futuristic interplanetary territories and road trip movies.
It’s a place where a RoboCop script can turn into a fairy tale, and a film noir plot can twist into a romantic comedy. Genre-jumping is a professional sport here. You never know what you’re going to get in the end.
I knew all about celebrities before Jesse arrived, but he still took me by surprise when we met in a mid-town Albuquerque hotel lobby.
My snack of the day, a dainty dab of grated baby carrots and a lemon lifesaver rolled around in my mouth as I sat in a fake leather chair waiting for him, zipping and unzipping the plastic snack bag, and brushing my sandal across a Navajo-patterned rug.
I picked up a newspaper someone had left on the adjacent chair. The local lead story was the same as it had been for the past five days, about a literary treasure trove a downtown demolition crew had unearthed in a collapsing adobe house. The newly-discovered manuscripts were linked to a writer who had disappeared from New York City in the 1930’s.
There was a picture of a man in hardhat, holding the suitcase the papers had been in. I stared at it and grew drowsy.
Above me, ceiling fans whirred in a slow rhythm. And the wood-beamed ceiling, adobe-colored walls, and shiny brown tiles darkened the lobby like an afternoon nap. I leaned my head back.
Then the elevator doors whispered open and Jesse Elliot stepped out, startling the room, and everyone in it, awake. His presence was blaring, though his clothing was nothing out of the ordinary, a light blue denim shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, darker jeans, and dark brown boots. His face was the main attraction. Like a movie marquee, it demanded attention. His eyes, darkest brown, were hooded by heavy lids at half-mast. The planes of his brow, cheeks and chin were geometrically chiseled and perfectly balanced, a sculpted masterpiece.
With his phone pressed to his ear, he gave me a nod, one that started with his chin down and ended with his head and his eyebrows slightly elevated, avoiding anything as gauche as an overt gesture.
He may have recognized me by my mouth, which was hanging open, or my eyes, which seemed to have crossed. Or maybe by the steam pouring out of my ears.
I heard him say, “Tell her he may not do anything, so don’t . . . We just have to wait . . . Right” before he put his phone into his pocket. Then his attention was one hundred percent on me.
There was something regal about him that caused me to push myself up from my chair.
What was he? A jungle conqueror, a fairy tale prince, a film noir private eye? I didn’t know if I should wave a machete, curtsey, or pull a gun. Perhaps we should have worn trench coats and fedoras and agreed on a password beforehand.
Later, I told my friend Randi that I felt a flash of déjà vu when I saw him, as if we shared some ancient thread or future dilemma. Honestly, though, my reaction had nothing to do with higher planes of existence. It was heat-seeking lust so unexpected that I wanted to giggle.
This was a teenage crush. But how could that be? I was over thirty. It was ridiculous and mortifying, and I had no idea how to behave. I wished I’d had a middle school crush or a movie star idol, anything that might have prepared me for this full-blown physical infatuation. But when I was younger, I was much too mature for this sort of thing.
When Jesse stopped in front of me, I dropped the newspaper and finished standing up.
He raked some strands of his blue-black hair away from his forehead. The hair fell right back onto the shoreline of his face like a wave on a beach. I thought of the cliché movie scene where the action cuts to an agitated ocean to symbolize sex. I cleared my throat, and ordered myself to get a grip.
Instead, I surprised us both by asking him my name. “Tracy Price?”
“Yes.” He confirmed my identity. “It’s nice to meet you.”
He was all-business; I was all over the place.
This was how a romance novel would begin, and, as the designated hero, he was free to relax and be two-dimensional for now. I’d provide the script because I thought I knew the genre, but I had it wrong from the start because, on second thought, he was from another planet. He had to be. And if this was science fiction, anything could happen. Aliens are tricky.
He picked up the newspaper I had dropped, glanced at the front page, then folded it in half and put it back on the floor, wedged between our two chairs.
When he sat next to me I wanted to leap up and run away. Instead, I asked, “How do you like Albuquerque?” Very original, Tracy. What I wondered was, How does it feel to look like you do?
“I like it,” he said, answering both my questions. “I like it so far.”
I felt a surge of power. “I bet. And how long are you staying?” Or, more to the point, would it be too forward of me to sit on your lap?
“I can’t say yet. Maybe six weeks? This was kind of an unexpected trip.” Bingo. Both questions addressed.
This was working. Let me know when you decide about the lap thing. I covered my mouth for a fake cough to clear my head.
He told me he was working on a soundtrack for a movie about a Billy the Kid-like character who time-travels into the future to clear his name.
I nodded. “Billy’s still got charisma. People are drawn to the legend.” Much as I am drawn to you and your amazing high, sharp cheekbones.
“That’s true, isn’t it?” he said.
Yes, it certainly is.
And then, as if he had heard me, he drew his right thumb and forefinger together across the bottom half of his face, calling attention to the sharply carved facial planes. Yes, those cheekbones. Exactly right. Women are supposed to have those facial planes. Don’t worry, though, you’re too handsome to be pretty.
We were silent. I was contemplating his perfection. Maybe he was, too.
Finally, I asked, “So, do you think you’ll get much writing done?” And what exactly are your super powers on your home planet?
He shrugged. “Who knows? I multi-task and my self-discipline is legendary, at least in my own mind.” He smiled. “I’ll have to hope that’s enough.”
Don’t forget your ability to make my brain grow a tail and chase itself. Excuse my candor. But, of course, it’s not because I would never say any of this out loud to you. What would I say? I know. I know. “Good luck. I hope it works out.” And, by the way, it turns out I’m a conversational multi-tasker myself.
“Let’s hope luck isn’t a big factor.” He handed me a file of papers and I fanned through them, wondering why he didn’t do all this electronically. I didn’t ask.
He said, “You know, read and give me an honest . . . your honest . . . opinion.” His eyes crinkled before he reached up to re-tame the same renegade flop of hair that kept sneaking down across his forehead.
Trying to ignore the hair salon maneuver, I focused on the pile of papers in the folder. It wasn’t thick. “When would you like to have these back? I need about a week. Would that work for you?”
He nodded. “Your friend, the one at the film office, said you would be . . .”
Charming? Irresistible, brilliant? Unbalanced? “Discreet? Right. I get that.”
He stood up and beeped. Actually his phone did. He took it out of his back pocket, glanced down, and then held it up. “Sorry. I have to take this. Let me know when you’re ready.”
I hate to say this . . . but I’m ready right now. Does that sound presumptuous? No? You’re right. It’s more promiscuous and ridiculous. Out loud, I said, ‘I’ll text you?
He nodded, and I heard him say into the phone, “Wait a minute.” Then, “I wish I could . . . no . . . not your fault,” as he walked toward the outside door.
I settled back into my chair, staring more toward Jesse than directly at him. I chewed on the last of my carrot curls, crushing and smoothing the empty plastic snack bag in my hand.
Then, as he reached the lobby door, he stopped, turned, and focused on me before he walked back toward the elevator. He said into the phone, “I’m going up now. Right. If it comes out, it comes out. We’re okay for now. We are.”
Some secret lover? A clandestine meeting? I watched his back until the elevator door opened and then stared at him when he got in and turned toward me. He nodded.
I felt myself blush. I picked up the newspaper, rolled it up, and swatted my leg.
Nothing to see here, I wanted to yell across the room at the elevator door when it closed.
So why did I feel the heat of a spotlight urging me to scream and sob like a Beatle-maniac chasing Paul McCartney in A Hard Day’s Night? I had already lived through being thirteen. I did not want to be stuck in adolescence again nineteen years later.
But my rational brain didn’t have control over my sweaty palms and nervous twitching. I needed to shake it off and move on, read his pages and respond honestly. I could do that. I took a deep breath. For the hundredth time. On the plus side, being around him was going to increase my lung function.
Thank goodness my life was a documentary because if this were a romance novel, shouldn’t his professional reserve be bubbling into lustful passion? Shouldn’t he be eyeing me with prideful disdain? And how about assessing my pert breasts and caterwauling about the jasmine scent of my hair? Nope. I was doing the assessing and obsessing. It was unbecoming for a heroine.
He wasn’t much of a hero. He had the alpha male appearance, but I couldn’t detect any desire on his part to give me an ambiguous stare, a threatening gesture, or dangerous glance. It wasn’t fair.
How often is fairness an option, though? And, anyway, what do I know? I don’t do romance. My experience is in documentaries based on facts that come from research. That’s my haven.
And that’s what I pursued later that day, on my laptop at my friend Randi’s house, sprawled in the recliner her husband and I had wheedled her into buying. Randi does not sprawl.
Thank goodness she was busy in her home office. It left me free to search for information about Jesse without the uncomfortable scrutiny of a mature adult.
I was surprised to find he was forty because he had a timeless glow about him. I studied his current pictures and some from twenty years earlier, and despite some faddish fashion faux pas of excessive facial hair and sparkly costuming, he had an appeal that at least matched the mature perfection I noted today.
He had evolved from lanky and boyish to sturdy, muscular and rugged without losing an iota of allure.
But I learned that not everyone was susceptible to his beauty.
When Randi came out of her office I was reading what little I could find about Jesse’s divorce. She looked over my shoulder. “Typical,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Spoiled rock star, can’t commit. How many times has he been married?”
I shrugged. “I think only once.”
“Well, thank goodness,” she said. “At least that shows some restraint on his part.” She cleared her throat and stared at Jesse’s picture. “I don’t get it.” She says exactly what she thinks. In the abstract, this is an excellent quality in a best friend. In reality, it’s often annoying. “He’s okay. Get a grip. He’s probably a prat.” She reads English novels and loves to use British slang. “What is it that you see in him?”
“Ask your husband,” I said. “He met Jesse.”
“Somehow, I doubt Rick had the same reaction as you did,” she said, closing my laptop and dragging me to her kitchen. “I think what we need is tea, lots of tea.” I hugged my computer to my chest, as protective as a teenager with her diary.
Randi rummaged through the cupboard next to her microwave, an appliance she only allowed because Rick insisted. The rest of her kitchen could have been featured in Modern Homes of 1921—a gas replica of an old wood stove, calico curtains, teapots wearing pink and blue cozies my grandmother had knitted for her. Her table, where I sat, was another 1920’s reproduction, covered in lilac-patterned oilcloth.
Randi, a municipal judge with a razor-sharp mind, laser-point focus, and tailored clothes, softened in her kitchen, amid the pastel colors and flowered patterns. She’d never worn a ruffle in her life, but in that room she became a human flounce.
And she was determined to dress me the way she had decorated her kitchen, in flowing cotton and pastel cable knits.
I resisted her with every pair of jeans I owned. I like to be comfortable, and, while nobody is going to beg me to be on the cover of Vogue, nobody retches at the sight of me either. I aim to fade into the background, not skinny, not fat, brown hair, shiny and shoulder length, only a hint of eyeliner around brown eyes, pressed clothes, muted colors. There’s no place in Albuquerque that a nice pair of jeans, a clean T-shirt, and I can’t go.
That’s the way I like it. I’m the potted plant in the corner, adding to the décor without taking center stage.
“It’s like you have a uniform,” Randi told me, often. “If you’d take off your jeans and T-shirts . . .”
“Not for you, I won’t. But . . .” I laughed and pointed to my awakened laptop screen. There was Jesse in all his glory, in a spotlight on a stage.
“Oh, please.” She shook her head and put a bone china cup decorated with red roses in front of me. “Perfectly steeped. Ahhh.” She inhaled the rising spice-scented heat. “Milk? Sugar? Lemon?”
I shook my head, not to refuse but to register resignation. She’d been serving me tea for more than a decade.
“Are you sure?”
“Let’s see . . . um . . . yes, for the twelve thousandth time.”
“I wish I had some crumpets.”
“I wish you did, too. Maybe you could stuff them in your mouth long enough so you could enjoy these pictures.”
“No, of crumpets. Yes, Jesse.”
But pages of Google images didn’t sway her. I pulled a walnut half and a cinnamon red-hot out of a snack bag, letting them marry in my mouth. I held out the bag, but Randi shook her head and grimaced. My creative snacks never get the respect they deserve.
I pointed at Jesse’s pictures again.
“Yeah, so? Honestly, he must be shedding pheromones when you’re around him because I don’t see what you’re going on about.”
“I think he’s . . . an interesting . . . model of a . . . an artist whose conflicting persona, I mean, whose persona tends to negate, or um, discourage personal or professional, I mean, being hard to understand . . . um, personas are . . . interesting.”
She stared at me as if I had announced I was going to become a serial killer, then handed me a spoon. “Stir.”
When I did, like a tealeaf reader, I had a glimpse of reality through my fog. “You’re right. Why am I so fascinated by him? This isn’t . . .”
“Isn’t you. That’s what worries me. I know you’re passionate about your work subjects, but . . . exactly what IS this?”
“Nothing to worry about.” I blew over the top of my tea. I preferred holding the warm cup to drinking it, but one didn’t refuse Randi when she was serving tea.
“Why don’t you date someone normal?” she asked, opening her refrigerator and staring inside. “How about Ward? He’s nice and . . . how about an English muffin?”
“I’m not going to date Ward, or an English muffin. We passed the romance window a long time ago. Anyway, what does Ward have to do with this?”
“I think he likes you.”
“I’ll pass him a note in study hall.”
“I am too. I like Ward. As a friend. Okay?”
“Did James really ruin you forever?” Randi asked.
She was referring to the biggest mistake so far, my extremely short marriage, which Randi was fond of blaming for every problem in my life.
“Will you lay off?” I said. “James was an error in judgment. And he didn’t have any long term effect on me.”
Randi crossed her eyes and puffed out her cheeks before she blew out a blast of breath. “Jesse Elliot. You’re living in cloud cuckoo land.” Then she smiled, at least in part because she had successfully inserted slang once again. “That means you’re insane.” She squeezed three lemon wedges into her tea.
“I realize that,” I said, narrowing my eyes to acknowledge the definition, not to agree with the insult. I squeezed the juice from the last lemon wedge onto her saucer.
She moved her cup. “Hey. What are you doing?”
What was I doing obsessing over Jesse, who was as dangerous as the outlaw Billy the Kid? They both had serious public relations problems and I had no idea where I should, or even if I should, enter the fray. Was I going to be Jesse’s nemesis, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and gun him down? Or was I going to be like naïve Paulita Maxwell, Billy’s sweetheart and confidant, by his side to the end? Of course, it was also possible that I was a bit player who wouldn’t even get my name in the credits.
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