Handsome Billy. He was always handsome, even when we were only twelve. Running through the cornfields of Indiana, holding my hand, we raced the rolling black clouds, the harbingers of copious water that drenched the fields. An hour later the sun would arrive with a mist that rose off the ground, and we would eat nothing but the late summer corn and tomatoes on white bread, slathered with mayo, salt and pepper. Billy looked up at me under the mop of his auburn hair, turned gold with the late summer sun, and I knew that he wouldn’t stay in Indiana for long.

    Here I was ten years later, flying out to see him in Las Vegas, the big playground in the desert. Billy always told me he would make it big. He was determined to get out of our little town, which he referred to as Nowhere. I didn’t view it so grimly. At twenty-two, I had gone to college, gotten my teaching degree, then my Master’s, for what reason, I couldn’t be sure. I would only teach at our little local high school, the English course filled with books of our childhood. I’d loved Harper Lee so much that Billy nicknamed me “Scout,” and when he called me to invite me for a visit to the big city, I could hear the pride and glee in his voice.

    So the big silver bird touched the tarmac. I could see waves rising off the ground, making the flat desert look like a mirage. At the gate was Billy, but not wearing the Chuck Taylor high tops of our youth. Instead, he was in one of those tailored suits that showed off his new physique. A white silk shirt rippled at his neck. I suddenly felt inadequate in my old Levi’s and loose white T shirt. Billy’s face broke out into his perfect white smile. He hoisted my leather messenger bag over his shoulder and led me to the car.

     “Wow, a Mercedes,” I said.

      “Ever heard of the Maybach?” he asked. “Told you I’d make it big,” he laughed.

       I tried to open the doors, but my fingers burned. I tried again and drew my hand away quickly.

     “It’s been in the hundreds all week,” he said. “Allow me.” Billy passed his hand easily over the door handle, and I noticed a large diver’s watch on his hand. It was a smartwatch, and I could tell from the heavy bevel that it must have cost him a significant sum. Billy must have been doing well. It was only three months since the time that he told me that he had signed a contract with a publisher for his music. It was not Top 40, but Billy had an agent, and he had already been featured as an “on the verge” artist on the U.S. Charts. Apparently, he had arrived.

     We drove past rows of stucco bungalows with red tile roofs and heavy ironwork. “Look at the yards,” Billy said. I looked over. There was nothing but a field of lava rocks and dirt, raked or arranged in swirling patterns. “Zeroscaping,” he said. “It’s more environmentally friendly than running a sprinkling system all day. Besides, it’s hard to grow anything in the desert.” I nodded. I thought of the roses that my mother had so carefully pruned and watered when I was a child. It never occurred to me that when she asked me to hold out the hose over each bush that I was wasting water.

     “We’ll go out tonight,” Billy said. “But let’s take a quick swim first. Here we are.”

      The water was warm, like bathwater, and I found that unlike at home, where I dripped and got cold after swimming, the water here seemed to evaporate the moment I got out. I could feel the skin on my nose and cheeks feeling warm, and I knew that they would have turned pink, and that there would be no way to avoid the thin peeling skin that would surely follow.

     Billy introduced me to Pamela. She had blonde hair, piled on the top of her head in a topknot, and thick crystal pink Lucite glasses that make her large blue eyes look almost cartoonish. She had a thick fringe of false eyelashes that were so long they brushed the lenses of the Lucite glasses. “We’ll go to the Voodoo Lounge tonight,” Billy said. 

     “Ok, great,” I said. “Let me just change into my jeans.” I saw Billy and Pamela exchange a look. Pamela pursed her lips and stifled a laugh. Billy narrowed his eyes at her. “Help her out, Pamela,” he said, while Pamela bit into her lip, smiling. 

     Pamela grabbed me by the hand. “We’ll get you fixed up.” Pamela’s room was rose gold and pink, like the thick glasses perched on her nose. There was a white fur pillow mixed among pink satin on the bed. Beads of mirrored glass hung from invisible threads, catching the omnipresent sunlight. I couldn’t resist the urge to blink, as flashes of white light hit my eyes and tiny pinpoints of light starred the pink walls.

    “Try this,” Pamela tossed a sequined cocktail dress in my direction. I looked at it skeptically. It reminded me of when my sister and I had a Barbie dress up box when we were little. The only thing missing appeared to be the feather boa. I slipped it on. My department store bra poked out of the baggy chest that would have been snug on Pamela’s ample chest. I was shaking my head. Pamela had removed her glasses and I saw that she didn’t need them to see. I also saw that they hid the tiny crow’s feet that were starting to form around her eyes. I had assumed she was our age. “Did you bring anything to go out in?” she asked. I had, but I was almost embarrassed to draw it out: an ecru short-sleeved blouse with a Peter Pan collar, perfect with my camisole and a long silk skirt, I had thought. Now it suddenly seemed like something a schoolmarm would wear.

    “No, that’s good,” Pamela said, pulling it out of my suitcase thoughtfully. “Try it with these.” She flung a pair of short black satin tap pants in my direction, along with a pair of high heeled wedge Mary Janes. It fit, unlike the baggy cocktail dress. “Want me to help you get ready?” Yikes. I was ready, I thought. Well, maybe a swipe of mascara. . .

    Pamela had different ideas. She lined my eyes with heavy black metallic liner and selected a fringe of slanted lashes. She applied red lip gloss from a tiny red pot and then used a brush to dab on reddish orange glitter to my lips. I didn’t recognize myself. She stepped back to evaluate her work. “Something’s missing,” she said. I watched her plug in a large crystal curling brush, and she wrapped my long brown hair into coils. When she was done, she wrapped it into a high ponytail at the top of my head and tied a large black satin bow around it. I squinted. It was hard to see under the heavy black lashes, but I felt like a deer on roller skates.

     “Wow,” Billy said. “I’d never guess you were from Nowhere,” he smiled. He had changed into a pewter silk shirt and black dress pants and loafers with no socks. Pamela put on a silver sequin tank dress.

     In thirty minutes, we were standing on the top floor of the Voodoo Lounge, and I could still feel the heat of the day rising off the terrazzo floor. “Get us a drink, Billy,” Pamela said. “Glass of Pinot?” Pamela asked. I felt my back arch. “No thanks,” I said to my own surprise. “Get me something different.”

               Billy raised his eyebrows. His auburn mop was now cut into a precise pompadour and pomaded back. Only his mischievous eyes and freckles reminded me of the Billy from home. He returned with a candy appletini. It was bright green with a rim of red glaze. The taste was sharp and sugary at once. We walked to a shoulder high railing. The sun was setting, but the air was still warm, my line of sight was filled with neon lights, save the upper third which consisted of sunset.

               I saw an older man approaching. He was large, one of those men with a big stomach that leaves the choice of pulling pants over or under. He chose under. Gray pinstripe trousers buckled beneath his prodigious midsection and I noticed a signet ring on his pinky. His hands were large and fleshy, and he walked towards Billy with purpose. Billy swallowed his drink and blanched. “My producer,” he said tonelessly. I didn’t like him. I watched as he approached Billy from behind and put his hands around his waist, almost imperceptibly.

               “Who’s this?” the producer asked.

               “This is Jamie, my friend from Indiana,” Billy said.

               The producer chuckled. “Nowhere, huh? Billy, you better not be partying all night. You need to make a record if you want to pay the lease on that Maybach. Does your friend like to party as much as you do?” He looked me up and down. I could see now that he was wearing lip gloss and faint color on his cheeks. The neon lights showed each detail. I stiffened and noticed that my drink felt warm. The ice had melted. I took a small taste. Sick-sweetness cloyed my tongue.

               “I just remembered I forgot my phone. Billy, can you take me back to get it?” I couldn’t get air here. It seemed like Las Vegas had a smell that I couldn’t get out of my throat and nose, artificial sweetness, recycled air. My breath was coming in gasps, and I didn’t know why.

               “Sure, I’ll take you home.”

               The producer slapped Billy playfully on the thigh. We had lost Pamela, but Billy wasn’t worried. The drive home took an hour, and by the time we arrived, it was sunrise. My metallic lashes had peeled off, giving my eyes the look of a sickly drag queen. Billy had gray bags under his eyes, and for the first time I noticed tiny track marks at his inner elbow.

               “God, it’s bright,” I said, shielding my eyes from the blinding hot sun. “Billy, don’t you ever wish it would rain?”

               Billy looked at me. “No,” he said. “It’s sunny here every day, why would I want rain?”

               But as I showered and scrubbed off the stench of the city, the sweet smoke of the Voodoo lounge and apple-tini, I dreamed of the black clouds that used to roll in over our heads. I dreamed of running through the cornfields, hand in hand with Billy, knowing that if we didn’t hurry, fat drops of rain would pelt us until the drops were so full they would wash over us, a waterfall that scrubbed away the dust and dirt beneath our fingers.

September 13, 2020 15:21

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20:10 Oct 11, 2020

I love this! It's so vivid.


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Unknown User
01:49 Sep 14, 2020

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Amy DeMatt
22:43 Sep 15, 2020

@A.g. Scott: Thanks for the read! I think your suggestions are spot on. I can get it a little tighter towards the prompt, something to work on! I agree on the description, as well. I think I just got carried away in writing--was having fun with this. I really appreciate the thoughtful feedback. It's great to practice for improvement, but so much better with feedback. Much appreciated, A.g.!


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