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The black Bentagya SUV kicked up dust in the circular driveway. A coal-black security officer with a shaved head opened the door for a young woman in a beige business suit and Versace handbag.
Two eight-year-old girls in Coline t-shirts crouched at the side of a hedge, their hands over their eyes, barely daring to peek at the reality. Coline held out her hands. One girl rushed to embrace her, the other ran away.
A dark-haired woman in jeans and boots, a few years older than Coline, walked up and exchanged kisses. Veronica Vector had taken over from her mother as hostess a year ago.
Veronica pointed out people and buildings as the two-man security team carried Louis Vuitton bags to the guest house. She waved me over.
Nicole Landa was the real name (and anagram) of Coline, one of the world’s best-selling singer-songwriters. It hardly seemed possible she had grown up downstairs from me in the two-story motel along the highway largely populated by the Vectors’ workers and their families.
“Nicole, do you remember Miko?”
“Of course. What’s it been, twelve years?”
She hugged me, loosely. I returned it, stiffly.
Lord have mercy, what a smile. Her teeth didn’t used to gleam.
“Veronica says you’ve gotten new job responsibilities.”
“Yeah, I’m working with the computers along with the cows. They don’t always do what I say either, but there ain’t one that’s kicked me yet.”
“You’re too modest,” Veronica said.
Some of the staff began approaching for introductions, but not selfies. Veronica had instructed us not to bother her too-photographed houseguest.
“I hope we have time to catch up later, Miko,” Coline said. I didn’t sense a lot of sincerity.
Coline’s next tour date was in L.A. in two days, so she would probably only spend one night. Most likely she and Veronica would take the horses up to the hills.
They began walking toward the veranda for cocktails and dinner. Coline sauntered away, her sway augmented by three-inch heels that were starting to get coated in dust blown up by the afternoon westerlies.
Stanislaus, Veronica’s husband, with longish hair and designer glasses, met them. The heavy front door closed with finality.
I took my truck back to the motel and played Call of Duty with ten-year old Luis, pretending to be excited as he completed another successful mission for Captain Price.
About 10:30, I got a surprise text. Veronica wanted me to come over.
Marta, the cook, had been dismissed. Since the cutbacks, there was no one to serve as dishwasher, so Veronica was finishing the cleanup.
“Nicole told me you guys were playmates. How did I not know that?”
“You were in college. We were the only two kids that age in the motel. We did homework stretched out on her old green carpet till we wore a hole in it.”
“That must have been strange when all of a sudden she got famous.”
“It was, but it didn’t change anything. We stopped being friends two years before.”
Like many agri-businesses, the Vector Company hired as many undocumented immigrants as it could get away with. My mother had been a waitress in their steakhouse, and Mrs. Vector also paid her to tutor English to the workers’ Spanish-speaking children. Coline’s mom was a maid from Czech Republic.
When I was fourteen, Mom got busted for prostitution and deported to Venezuela. Both she and the immigration judge wanted to put me on a plane to Caracas, and I got put in a detention center, but—long story–Mrs. V helped me get out and hide.
That was just about the time Coline took her stage name and made a demo of the tweener girl anthem that would become her first single to chart. After the heat died down and I snuck back, she wouldn’t talk to me.
“She told me you guys were close till she moved away.”
She picked up two glossy folders from the counter. “Nicole is interested in possibly buying some real estate in the area for a retreat, and I told her I’d send you up with some brochures.” The photos showed ugly new mini-mansions in the hills.
“You guys could catch up on old times…or maybe you could think of some other activities.”
My jaw dropped. She licked her upper lip to confirm her meaning.
My mind held two opposing thoughts. One was that Coline obviously didn’t care about me so I should just drop off the folders, make polite conversation, and leave. The other was that I’d been waiting for this chance most of my life.
Small gas lamps illuminated the paved stones as I walked to the guest house, a European fairy-tale cottage marooned in the desert.
The security men greeted me at the door, biceps bursting out of their black golf shirts that read “CL Entertainment Group.”
“I’m here to show Miss Landa the real-estate brochures she requested.”
“Are you carrying ID, mon?” the black guard said with a Jamaican accent. When the guards were confident my driver’s license matched the name on their list, they passed a wand over my body, inspected my folders, and confiscated my güvenilir bahis no-name smart phone. He examined it as if he’d never seen that brand before.
“Sorry, mon, she’s had bad experiences with visitors taking secret photos and selling them.”
He handed me the same kind of light-up watch they gave out at her concerts for fans to wave and make a light show. “Go upstairs and wait in the hallway. When the watch buzzes, knock twice on the blue door, like this. Boom-BOOM!”
I cooled my heels on a plastic chair. The monitor played soundless videos from the Grammys.
After about twenty minutes, the watch buzzed and lit up frantically.
She opened the door tentatively, saw it was me, and undid the chain. The media sometimes described her as willowy, but barefoot, she was shorter than I remembered, which made sense since girls stopped growing before boys.
“Hi, Miko. It’s been a long time.”
“Fourteen years, Coline. Half our lives.”
She had changed into comfortable jeans and a red top. Her shoulder-length, wavy hair was auburn, between her natural chestnut color and the platinum bombshell of her recent videos.
“You have something to show me?”
I handed her the folders. She thumbed through and laid them on the table.
“You know, I met some famous baseball player who looked like a grown-up version of how I remembered you, and now I see it’s true. I don’t follow sports and can’t remember his name.”
“Probably Jose Altuve. He’s Venezuelan too. I’m a little taller, though.”
“That’s him. I was surprised to see you today. I figured you’d be like me and go to a city where there was more opportunity.”
“Don’t have any place to go. When I graduated high school, Mrs. V made me the houseboy. Then she had to cut back so I went out to be a ranch hand.”
“How did you get started with the computers?”
“It took the foreman over an hour just do the spreadsheet for the cows’ daily milk production, and nobody could install programs or troubleshoot the hardware. Mrs. V sent me to community college to learn IT and Excel and I took over. It’s not a full-time job, so I still do some milking too.”
“I’m so happy you’re doing well…Would you like a drink? There’s small-batch Tennessee whiskey.”
“What are you having?”
“Make it two.”
She poured two glasses. The room became silent.
I was the Vectors’ employee, not even a manager. She was a superstar whose recent breakup with an English EDM producer had made the front page of TMZ. And yet as a male I was expected to make the first move.
“I don’t want to overstep, but Veronica indicated we could do some adult activities if you have any interest.”
She stifled a laugh. “That’s an overly polite way to put it. What do you suggest?”
“We could take a shower. I could give you a massage. I could kiss you down. I could give you genital stimulation, manual or oral or both. I can do BDSM stuff, either as a dom or a sub. About the only things I probably shouldn’t do are kiss you on the lips and stick my cock in below your waist.”
“Veronica keeps that for herself, huh? How do you want to get off?”
“It’s not that important. You don’t have to treat me like we’re on a date.”
Wrong thing to say.
“Are you only here because Veronica ordered you?”
“Of course not. I’m not a male prostitute.”
“All right. I’ll start by taking a massage and you can kiss me down. But you’re right, it’s too weird to kiss me on the lips.”
I removed my V-monogrammed purple golf shirt and khaki shorts and slowly lowered my plaid boxers.
“Really?” she said.
No, she wasn’t referring to the size of my cock. My surprise for partners was a prominent brand on the side of my left butt cheek—the flying V seen on the Vectors’ front gate, work shirts, steak packages, and cattle.
She unbuttoned her blouse and took off her jeans. No brands or tattoos. She wore a black bra and matching silk panties displaying her personal symbol, a C with an upside-down semicolon, a dyslexic version of the “wink” emoji. The word Wrong! was displayed in graffiti-type lettering on the butt.
Wrong! had been her most controversial album, rough synth-pop that caricatured her image as a perfectionist who drove away flawed boyfriends and then shredded their egos with her lyrics.
“May I ask if you’ve had custom lingerie made for all your albums?”
“The last four. I was a virgin for the first two.”
She spoke to Alexa. The album blasted from hidden speakers, starting with the sub-bass on the electropop opener, “Only Fools Trust Me.” She slipped off her bra and panties and lay face down on the king-size bed. I started massaging her shoulders and back, stopping at her hips.
She he had a long back, with well-formed lower dimples that compensated for not having as much butt as her female rivals at the top of the charts.
I started at her neck, inhaling her perfume, licking softly. I got to her breasts, a little türkçe bahis smaller than average but nicely rounded. I outlined them with my tongue before reaching her areola, circling and biting lightly. I licked down past her navel before taking the plunge.
She was immaculately waxed except for a thin brushy line, a compromise, I suppose, between her feminist ideals and her desire to attract men’s tongues. Her vulva was long and symmetrical. I licked outside it for a minute before opening her outer lips and working inside.
I reached her clit and put my tongue below the flap, lifting, teasing. She tensed and sat up a bit. I kept going, slowly. “Faster,” she ordered.
The song was an emotional ballad, so I said, “Alexa, skip track five.”
Next came the banger of a title track, which had won Video of the Year at the VMA’s.
I started going crazy on her clit, back and forth, up and down. She clenched her fists and moaned softly. I slowed down enough to get her to the chorus.
Faster, faster. Her natural scent displaced the perfume.
“Yes, I wrote you a love song but if you thought it was forever you were (sub-bass) WRONG (sub-bass)…WRONG (sub-bass)…WRONNNNGGGG.”
She started moaning theatrically, undulating from her neck through her thighs.
She grabbed my black curly hair, pulling me down toward her. It was all I could do to keep my promise to avoid her lips.
“You fucking devil. You had to get me on the song when I’m playing the perfect bitch.”
We cuddled for a few minutes. “You want to do that again? Or something else?”
“No, Veronica and I want to ride before it gets too hot and I need sleep. What can I do for you?”
“I don’t need anything.”
“That’s the second time you’ve said that. Stop being passive-aggressive.”
“There is something you can do, but I’m a little embarrassed to ask.”
“Do you have lingerie for Rebirth?” Her newest album was my favorite.
She got up, on tiptoes, butt bouncing. She retrieved the Wrong! bra and panties from the carpet and deposited them in a small safe.
“Not that I don’t trust you, but some asshole I hooked up with in Jakarta stole my underwear and tried to sell it on the dark web. My lawyers shut his ass down fast, but the tabloids bribed the cops to give them the police report, and it was headlines everywhere.”
“Oh man, I don’t know how you put up with that fame shit.”
“I wish somebody had told me going into this I could never expect any part of my life to remain private. Probably wouldn’t have changed anything, but at least I wouldn’t have been so shocked.”
She reached into a drawer and pulled on a short robe that morphed from purple at the top to lavender to orange, with gold leaves and flowers strewn throughout. She spun to model. A lower-case “rebirth” was lettered discreetly across the midriff as well as the C; symbol on the side.
“What do you call that thing?”
“It’s a non-traditional short kimono.”
“It’s perfect, like your body.”
“Liar. You have a condom?”
The sexiest song on Rebirth, Unholy Heaven, told the story of a Christian trying to balance her love for Jesus with various forms of premarital sex, described obliquely.
She put on the track. She got on all fours and straddled me. She began stroking my dick with her hands, then cupped my balls while she licked the lollipop. There followed four minutes that were both unholy and heavenly.
I came with a series of low grunts louder than they strictly needed to be.
She rolled off. We spooned and listened to the next two songs, her back to me.
“I should go get some sleep. Cows won’t wait for milking.”
“Please stay.” We cuddled for a few songs.
She rolled over. Her mascara was streaked by a tear.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“Not intentionally. My friends are so worried about me they’re hooking me up with their tame employees who are scared shitless I’m going to go off on them.”
I wanted to comfort her. “I really think you’re”–I had a hard time formulating the sentence –“a beautiful woman and a fantastic songwriter and musician.”
“That’s not what a girl wants to hear.”
“If I told you I’ve loved you since we were ten years old, you’d think, ‘God, this guy isn’t in my solar system, let alone my league. I’ve got to let him down easy.’ “
A buzzer from one of her light-up watches went off on the desk.
“I guess you should go. Do you have tickets for the concert tomorrow?”
“Veronica has floor seats, but her husband is back. I was thinking about picking up a nosebleed.”
“How about I text you two front-row seats and you can go with whomever you want?”
Whomever? She always had been an English nerd. Two front-row seats cost a month of my wages on the resale market.
“More than generous.”
She kissed me Euro-style. “I had a great night,” I said.
She didn’t echo the sentiment.
The guard frisked me to make sure I wasn’t smuggling anything unmentionable, then güvenilir bahis siteleri handed back my phone.
“Did Coline take a fancy to your real-estate brochures?”
“She usually does,” he said, deadpan.
I got back to my room and punched the wall. We both got off, but neither of us were satisfied.
A cardboard box in the closet contained a seven-year-old copy of Vogue, with Coline on the cover in a magnificent magenta dress. Inside the yellowing pages, I reread the words that had made me rip her photos off my wall and tear them into Chiclets.
I’d just spent more than an hour alone with her and didn’t raise the subject. What a wuss.
I mimicked my soothing voice. “Whatever you want, Coline. You’re perfect, Coline. Don’t worry about me, Coline.”
When I sleepwalked to the barn at dawn, the cows were already lined up for the milking machines and gave me the stank eye for being a little late. My favorite was Moo-donna, nicknamed for an hourglass marking on her face. I told her about the night before. I don’t think she believed me.
I checked texts. The ticket service had delivered my seats. Weird, because Coline and I hadn’t exchanged phone numbers.
Also, Veronica wanted me to come over around 10 a.m.
Even on an April morning, the temperature was pushing eighty. I sat at the Cinzano table by the pool and waited for Veronica to come over from the stable. Marta, the cook, served coffee and croissants.
Veronica leaned forward. “Dish.”
My descriptions of Coline’s custom lingerie piqued her interest. I didn’t get into the sex, of course. “About all I’ll say is she’s not as wild a lover as you.”
“You’d say that whether it’s true or not.”
“She’s cautious. She has to be, not knowing if she’s hooking up with a guy who will talk to the tabloids or swipe her underwear.”
I had a bunch of jobs around the ranch, but the most important one was to keep the spreadsheets. I got a readout with the milk production from each cow, looked up the prices of certain grades of beef, milk, and feed, and entered the data in Excel. The formula coldly determined when a cow earns a transfer to the hamburger department. Moo-donna was slipping, but I covered for her.
Shortly after 11, Coline texted. “Leaving at 2. Can you come up now?”
I didn’t bother to bring brochures. The guards hardly noticed me.
Coline sat at a keyboard working out chords, wearing jeans that smelled like horses and a soft pink top, just like when we were kids.
She was all business. “Rolling Stone is writing about performers who got their start busking, like Halsey, and my media team wants me in it to show I overcame hardship. I don’t remember much about that day we went out. Can you tell me anything?”
Mrs. V summoned me to her bedroom suite. Nicole sat cross-legged on the floor, testing chords and lyrics on the twelve-string.
“I’d like Nicole to try out her new songs at the Metrolink station in the valley. See if any of them get applause, see if she can make any money busking. That’s how young performers get noticed.”
The girl didn’t even seem to be listening.
“You’re going to go with her, clear enough space to spread her blanket by a wall. Make sure no one bothers her or robs her. Do you still have a switchblade?”
“Yes, ma’am.” My trusty Kershaw Launch had a 1.9-inch blade, near the legal maximum. The street gangs would laugh, but it would keep the solitary creeps away.
“No school tomorrow. Be here at 5:15 a.m. sharp so she’s there for the morning commute.”
Next morning before dawn, I reported to the back door. We sleepily got in the back of the Mercedes. Nicole chewed on her light brown hair as Mrs. V drove us to the station. She didn’t say a word until after we were dropped off, when she muttered “bitch.” I gave a homeless guy a cigarette to move and laid down the Navajo blanket next to the entrance.
She took out her guitar, sat against the wall, and started running through the five songs she had written, alternating with classics. The one I remember is Mariah’s “Emotions,” because it let Coline demonstrate a whistle voice that didn’t sound like a she-cat in heat. She sometimes was off-key and made some guitar mistakes, but when she got going there was something magic. A few commuters put bills in her guitar case.
One druggie tried to scoop up some bills but I chased him off without pulling out the knife.
The station got deserted and she started working on new songs, which is what she did with most of her free time. Around noon, she took money from the case and walked to McDonald’s while I guarded her spot. That should have my job, but I suppose she wanted to use their bathroom. She brought me back a Quarter Pounder, fries, and milk. I just went native and peed in the bushes.
Traffic picked up for the afternoon commute. A man in a suit with an open collar stopped to listen. He asked Nicole for a business card. She didn’t have one, so she took one of his and wrote her name and that of Mr. Vector—”my representation”—on the back.
At the end of the day, we’d netted $57.52. Not minimum wage, but not bad for a first day of busking. Mrs. V split it evenly between us…
Coline ran through the chords of “First Crush,” one of her original five.
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