JENNA WAS LATE for an audition.
Jenna was never late for anything—which would, she decided, still be the case. She wasn’t going to be late for this audition; she just wasn’t going to show up. Who wanted to be Tall Blonde #6, anyway?
From where she sat, on one of three dilapidated yellow lounge chairs in what she and her neighbors jokingly called “the garden courtyard,” she could hear her phone ringing inside her apartment. She knew it was her agent, Trevor. Not answering made her fidgety and nervous, but there was no way she could listen to Trevor’s nasal voice right now. Would being late to one audition blacklist her forever? Hollywood was funny; she still hadn’t figured out all the rules after six years.
She ran her fingers over the smooth gold band, still on its chain, that now lay in her palm. This was the first time she had taken it off since she left Nebraska. She wasn’t even sure why she still wore it. No good ever comes of holding on to things that can’t be, she told herself fiercely, doing her best to mimic her mother’s voice. It wasn’t like she had tried to keep in touch with Billy. She couldn’t ever remember the last time she had talked to him, and a wave of remorse swept over her. She had been a terrible friend, not even calling when she knew he had gone into Happy Grounds. Not even sending a card! It takes five minutes to write out a nice card, admonished her mother’s voice in her head, but it means a lifetime of memories for the receiver.
Even her mother’s voice thought she was a failure.
Jenna closed her eyes, remembering the smell of him, health and sweat and good, honest dirt. The way he smiled; the blond-gold hair on his legs that turned almost white every summer. No one had looked at her like Billy looked at her, as though she were interesting. As though she had something to say. Here in LA, she got cat calls and come-ons and even some sincere stutters, but not one single man saw her as a person, an actual human being who maybe just wanted to be treated like everyone else.
She knew it was ungrateful, but sometimes she wondered if life wouldn’t have been just a bit easier if she had been a little less…well, a little less everything. Tall, blonde, thin, graceful. The whole damn thing.
Her phone started to ring again.
Jenna leaned back in the lounge chair, sun on her face. She still marveled at warmth in January; it was one of the many things that made her vow never to move from her adopted home. She wondered what Florencia would think, Florencia who was infinitely practical and would probably be irritated at the sun for shining when it wasn’t supposed to.
Florencia who was pregnant with Billy’s child.
“Hey, jigar-tala. Not a bad day for January, hey?”
Jenna’s upstairs neighbor, Afareen, stood over her. Afareen was Persian, a lesbian, and a medical librarian, three things Jenna didn’t even know existed before she had moved to Los Angeles. In her mid-forties, short, and curvy, Afa had started looking out for Jenna from the moment Jenna had moved into the Historic Venice Courtyard Apartments three years ago. Every other sentence was peppered with words Jenna didn’t understand but which Afa assured her were terms of endearment.
Jenna sat up, her whole body feeling heavy and dislocated. “You’re home early,” she said, doing her best to sound happy.
Afa tilted her head and raised her eyebrows. “You okay, aziz-am?”
“I see.” Afareen took a piece of paper from her purse and waved it at Jenna, showing a glimpse of red and white stripes and some bold black lettering. “Crystal and I are going to see if we can get tickets to this new circus tonight, over by the pier. You should come.”
Jenna automatically shook her head. “I don’t like circuses. I can’t stand to see the animals caged up.”
“Excellent, perfect,” said Afa, tapping the paper. “Because there are no animals in this one. Just people.”
Jenna considered. For the first time ever, she had enough money to do things like go see a show at the last minute, and that thought cheered her up slightly. “Sure,” she said, standing as her phone stopped ringing and then started again. “What’s it called, this circus with just people?”
Afa consulted the flyer. “The Circus of Lost and Found.”
Jenna nodded and walked into her apartment, flicking her phone to silent. As she passed the kitchen, she opened her palm and slid Billy Doheny’s ring into the trash.