Food, chefs and the occasional clusterf*ck.
Food, chefs and the occasional clusterf*ck.
Ivy VanMeer didn’t like her job. The receptionist window sat opposite the plush pink couch, on which sat frosty pink-lipped women, at the surgeon’s office to buy perfection in the form of D-cups and a pixie nose. At night, she wandered Melrose Blvd., buying Johnny Rotten jackets and Sid Vicious pants, with various safety pins and political buttons to hold the pieces together; other times she bought candy colored taffeta prom dresses from The Wasteland on the corner. That night, she wandered in to the sticky floored bars and stuck chopsticks through her auburn hair, twisting it into a low chignon. Nate, the bartender working his first night at a trendy Melrose club, wore a Frank Sinatra hat and James Dean jeans and dirty white t-shirt. When Ivy walked in to the bar, he poured her a Blue Flamingo on the house, which, she thought, tasted like pineapple and blueberry rum. Her rainbow colored sea-shell bracelets clinked against the counter and she reminded Nate of Ruby, who right then was sitting on the kitchen floor, eating brown rice out of a carton take out box from Mr. Chow’s. He could see Ruby’s bleached white hair spilling out onto the floor around her, wishing she could find her way back to the frigid Santa Monica shore—his mermaid.
Ivy VanMeer went back to Rustic Canyon with Nate the bartender that night, to his house across from Will Roger’s State Park. She found his composure and the strand of dark brown hair in his eye intoxicating, her hand nestled perfectly in his. The house made Ivy think of the cottage in Goldilock’s and the Three Bears, tucked away behind a woodsy front yard—though this one would surely dwarf a small cottage. Downstairs, on the lilac walled bedroom floor was a retro red and white guitar, a metal Zenith drum set, a box of glittery, sandy seashells, and various speakers, all surrounding a plush queen sized mattress. Ivy already knew that she wanted to stay forever, enveloped in music and Nate’s smooth hand. Two empty bottles of red wine and one of white also lay on the floor—Drake, whose one week crash at Nate’s had turned into a permanent stay, only drank white Riesling. A very narrow wooden staircase led up to the attic, where three beds with handmade quilted blankets sat in a row. Drake, Ben, and Ruby all slept upstairs, piling in one bed when the air got crisp and Drake happened to be home, which he almost never was. Nate led Ivy upstairs towards his housemates, where they found Ben sprawled on top of one bed and Ruby curled like a cat in another. He pulled the covers over Ruby in her dark blue lace nightgown, kissing her on the forehead while Ivy stood holding his hand. Later, when they sat outside with their feet in Nate’s arctic pool, he whispered to Ivy about Julia and about how she broke Ruby’s heart—left her alone to eat Chinese on the kitchen floor.
In the mornings, Nate made sunflower seed banana pancakes and Ruby juiced plump navel oranges from their tree by the pool. They all sat on a checkered picnic blanket at the park across the street and ate pancakes with honey and orange juice out of a tall metal canteen which kept the pulpy liquid cool even in the California heat. Drake rolled his own cigarettes using tobacco from the surf and smoke shop where Ben worked. His dirty blond hair formed a heart shape on his forehead, his bangs curling inward toward the center, trying to inhale every last wisp of smoke that floated above Drake’s eye level. Ivy smothered her pancakes with butter, which she let melt in the sun—Nate smiled at her and she saw his side grin out of the corner of her eye. Ben looked at them with red tinged blue eyes, slipping his Ray Ban’s over the bridge of his nose and fingering the leather cord around his neck. Drawling, he half-asked—“Someone drive me to the beach?” No one answered, but Ben hadn’t expect anyone to. The sun made them all lazy, made them stretch out on the grass and ask half-hearted questions about going places they wouldn’t get to until tomorrow. Ruby stretched out with her head on Ivy’s lap, eyes closed, absorbing the Los Angeles rays. Ivy saw Drake, glowing with a halo around him of thick, sticky sweet mango tobacco smoke; she felt Ruby’s bleached hair resting on her ankles; she heard Ben playing the guitar and humming with his signature raspy voice, a slow melody, which Nate tried to match with lyrics. Her third floor Hollywood apartment seemed farther and farther away, until she knew she couldn’t, she wouldn’t, go back. By the next night, Nate’s room downstairs was still littered with instruments and wine, but now Ivy’s black and gold trunk also sat in the corner—filled with taffeta dresses, leather jackets, and acid wash pants—though she would mostly wear Nate’s dirty white t-shirts and jeans that sat loose on her hips, a dark blue scarf printed with a map of Italy over the top of her wavy auburn hair; Ruby laughed when Ivy wore the scarf, telling her that she looked like a beautiful pirate.
Ivy’s trunk, in addition to carrying her pink taffeta and punky leather pants, carries everything else. Black with a gold lock and key, it’s big enough to fit her inside. Instead, there is a tarnished gold locket with a photo of her mother on one side and her sister on the other, a well-read collection of yellow hardcover Nancy Drew books, a sewing kit with a pair of fraying Pointe shoes, birthday cards from her father, who left when she was five and whose cards stopped coming after the glittery thirteenth, two tubes of MAC lipstick in Marilyn red, various bottles of Chinese herbs to cure everything from a bad stomachache to heartbreak, a coffee table book of old Hollywood starlets, and a small moleskin notebook which would soon be filled with sketches of Ben surfing, his short brown hair shimmering with sea salt, Ruby sleeping with her red lips pursed, Drake with a cloud of smoke hovering above him, and Nate’s hands grasping her own.
During the days, Ivy had to go back to the plush pink office while Ben waxed surfboards in Malibu, Nate and Ruby played Frisbee in the park, while Drake mostly disappeared, drifting up and down Venice Beach. If Ben and Ivy came home from work early, Nate would make watermelon, pine nut, and feta cheese salad from the farmer’s market, or grill miso sesame tofu on the barbeque. They sat outside by the pool, Drake lounging on a chaise, while the others sat with feet dangling in the pool, which was finally starting to heat up. After dinner, Nate left for the bar, while Drake and Ben would head off to the glitz of North Hollywood—sometimes to the Rainbow Room or the Roxy, though they mostly liked the small punk clubs off Sunset Blvd. At home, Ruby and Ivy would get into the big bed downstairs and watch Marilyn and Audrey movies, sipping wine out of mugs, and painting their nails deep red. Most nights, when they fell asleep cuddled together, smelling of polish and liquor, Nate would gently lift Ruby and take her up to her quilted bed so that he could slip under the white cotton sheets with Ivy—some nights though, when Nate was exhausted from making Cosmos and Amaretto Sours, he would leave them sleeping and tuck himself into Ruby’s small bed.
One night, though Nate couldn’t hear it while he carried Ruby off to bed, the squeaking wooden floorboards began to whisper, “Ruby loves Ivy. Ruby loves Ivy.” Everyone in the house woke up to listen; they could all hear even when Nate couldn’t, oblivious in his tired daze.
Drake was too busy spending his days on Venice Beach to tell him, eating sandy corn dogs on a stick and sitting on the steps outside the famous tattoo parlor where he worked random hours. Sometimes, he hung around where all the cutoff teed muscle men flexed and oiled for the Japanese tourists who snapped away with bulky cameras. Drake took photos of the tourists, wondering whether their expressions were ones of delight or mocking. There were no Japanese tourist in Ohio, where he had lived until he was old enough to know that he needed to see the West Coast ocean in the mornings. His younger sister, with the same blond bang that swept inwards, had died shortly after her sixteenth birthday, right before Drake left home for good. He met Nate the first summer he was in Los Angeles, while performing on the boardwalk in Venice as a one-man band. He wore a fedora while he played—the harmonica, drums, a guitar, symbols, singing mostly Dylan, taking occasional requests from the dreadlocked man who sold watercolor sunsets next to where he stood. When Drake took a break to smoke, Nate approached him,
“That’s pretty cool, man.”
“Thanks, just moved here from Ohio.”
“You looking to play in a real band?”
He slept on Nate’s couch that night, the notorious short crash that turns into a permanent stay.
Ben was too busy to tell Nate, surfing every morning at seven before work, rolling out of his sandy sheets bed to grab his wax coated surfboard and walk down the hill, across the Pacific Coast Highway, and into the cool water. At work, he flipped through magazines and helped aimless frosty blonds find pink surfboards that they would never use, or expensive boards for middle aged men who told him about the 70’s when they were friends with all the legendary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Sometimes Ben took his jeep and drove farther down the coast than Rustic Canyon, turning around only when the coast route merged with the grey city highway. He would pass his small hippie school on the way home from these long drives, the one he had gone to with Ben and Ruby from 3rd grade until graduation. From there, everyone went to Brown or New York City—Ben and Nate did Brown, while Ruby tried to be an artist at NYU. After college, they all moved back to Los Angeles for lack of sunlight and a better idea. Nate’s parents had left the Rustic Canyon house empty, found a place farther up the coast, near Paradise Cove’s pristine private beaches and country club tennis courts. When Nate called to tell him that they could move in, Ben remembered the teak and rock waterslide behind the house, which weaved between the trees and into the pool; as rebellious twelve year olds, they would lie on their backs on the dry rocky waterslide, eating greasy orange potato chips and dripping blueberry popsicles. Thinking about the waterslide, Ben had packed his bags that night.
When Ruby and Ivy huddled under the down white sheets, Ruby forgot about Julie and lonely Chinese takeout boxes. When she did think about Julie, she remembered the first time she saw her, noticing that now her sadness came in only a slight twinge rather than a wrenching grind. Julie was in a modern dance performance downtown, her hands twirling like those of a lithe Indian dancer, though she was sturdy and athletic in the rest of her movements, Ruby remembered noticing. She saw her again at a bar near the theater, which Ruby secretly went to late night in hopes of seeing Julie after a performance. When Julie saw Ruby sitting at the bar, in her thin violet camisole and snug high-waisted jeans, she bought Ruby a drink. After a few drinks, Ruby blushed and admitted to seeing Julie’s dance performance the week before. Ruby’s hair was purple then; when she moved in with Julie a few weeks later, they dyed it Marilyn blond in the bathroom sink. On Saturdays, at the Pier by the beach, they rode the $6 a ride ferris wheel until they felt sick, shared sugary cotton candy, and lay on the sand until morning. For months, she would wake up stuck in the crevice where Julie’s neck met her collarbone, until the one sandy morning when Ruby woke up alone at dawn and found her stuff in boxes when she got back to Julie’s. When she knocked on Nate’s door, boxes in tow, she hadn’t expected to move in for good, but Ben and Nate went to the cheap furniture warehouse in Mar Vista and bought another bed the next day.
But she stopped thinking of those downtown dance performances and the huge cotton candy cones while she felt Ivy fall asleep on her arm. She felt the stomach butterfly begin to stir, for the first time since the moist sandy beach had jarred her awake, and she found her heart beating fast with fear. This can’t happen, she thought. Ruby looked over at the red heart shaped clock and enjoyed losing sensation in her arm for a little bit longer. But when Nate came home, that day after the especially crisp and purple dawn, Ruby was gone.
Nate first looked under her bed. Ruby always kept her hope chest tucked under the bed—her grandmother had given it to her when she was born, along with a stained photograph and a small note on pink paper. In the photo, Ruby’s grandmother, a small Chinese girl in pigtails and a blue dress, stood grinning on a sunny porch; the note simply told Ruby to fill the chest with things she loves; she started when she was seven, with a pack of Zebrastripe gum and a jewel-bellied troll—both still lying on the bottom of the chest. After that, she had added two still sticky tickets to the ferris wheel at the pier, a broken wheel from her first set of roller-skates, a recipe from her mother for Mao Poe tofu and sweet almond rice cakes, an empty tube of Ivy’s MAC Marilyn lipstick, several Polaroids of her, each with a different hair color, and a postcard from Drake and Ben from when they had backpacked across Europe. Sometimes, when Ruby looked at the chest, she bit her bright purple nails, not quite able to figure out who she is. Nate called her his mermaid, wanting her to find her way back to the foaming Santa Monica ocean, to remember that she had loved it until the morning when the sand got so cold that Julie had left her to wake up alone. Nate groped under the bed for the hope chest, but his hands came out empty.
Ben grabbed his skateboard, weaving in and out of the narrow roads in the Canyon, yelling Ruby’s name in monotone, squinting to see down the darkened forest paths. Ruby had listened when Ben ran away from home at fifteen, let him climb in her window and crash on her floor before convincing him to go back the next day. He had been too busy to listen to Ruby and he knew she wouldn’t be coming back the next day like in high school—angry with himself, he pushed harder, speeding down Ocean Park. Ivy and Drake silently crawled at 5 mph in Nate’s black 1962 Chevrolet Impala convertible. She looked around, noticing the broken glove compartment hinged open, which Nate claimed had been broken since the week after he picked up the car from the dealer on the corner of Wilshire Blvd and Cloverfield. Inside was a worn travel guide to Morocco, an envelope stuffed with tips in small bills, Nate’s cell phone—with three missed messages from his mother, and a day old folded newspaper announcing that the fires were still raging in Malibu. Ivy suddenly felt trapped in the car, with Nate’s things, with his hand on hers. She called Ruby’s name out the window, pleading, beginning to tear in frustration. Ivy hadn’t wanted to hear the creaking house that night months before, had pretended that she didn’t, even after she had secretly started hoping that Nate would leave her, legs intertwined with Ruby’s, all those times he came home late at night.
Drake finally walked in the door as the sun started to shine through the Canyon house’s kitchen windows, having been up all night at the Roxy with its sweating guitar players, frantic drummers, and fake eye-lashed singers, high on music and a combination of pills. He found a scrawled note in the fruit bowl on the kitchen table, Out looking for Ruby. Drake grabbed his low-slung tan leather shoulder bag and dug around toward the bottom for a business card that Ruby had written Julie’s number on months before when she had started living there. Drake pulled out a Japanese take out menu, a half-empty pill bottle, and one ticket stub from the midnight showing of Annie Hall at the ArcLight theater before he finds the creased business card. He called her and it rang repeatedly, insistently, before a pickup—“Hey guys, it’s Jules, leave me a message and I’ll get back to you…” She trailed off for too many beats of silent, then the message machine beep finally came in, “Julie, it’s Drake—you know…Ruby’s friend—is she with you? We can’t find her…alright, call me back.” He hated leaving messages, especially on Julie’s machine, but the house already felt emptier without Ruby and he didn’t know what else to do.
Over the next weeks, Drake mostly listened to Bright Eyes with the door locked, singing the lyrics, “we are nowhere and it’s now” with uncharacteristic volume. He turned his bathroom into a darkroom, where chemically saturated prints had begun to develop on the makeshift drying line. Sweating guitar players, frantic drummers, and fake eye-lashed singers hung above the antique sink and toilet. Drake’s eyes flicked the crowds in the backgrounds of each photo for Ruby’s platinum blond hair and almond eyes. He hadn’t gone to high school with the rest of them and was always conscious of that fact; he hadn’t expected Ruby’s absence to hover so predominantly over everything he did and thought. Looking at the photos he took of Ruby at the beginning of the summer, on the swings in her sunflower sundress with various barrettes keeping her hair twisted into two long braids, Drake wanted to reach out and protect her, to hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. He thought of his sister and then Ruby—silently prayed for her to come home.
Ben and Nate sat talking at the kitchen table most nights, Ben constantly rolling one of the plastic apples between his palm and the wooden tabletop. They waxed existential, only occasionally addressing what they both secretly wondered.
“Nate, what happened?”
“I really don’t know man…”
“God I was so ready to get out of college, but now I just wonder why. What the fuck are we doing? What happened to the band? And now Ruby is gone and she’s right…we need to get up and go. Do something, you know?”
“Yeah. I know,” Nate replied in monotone.
Ivy was pale. Everyday, she looked paler, beginning to blend in with the white fleece blanket that she wrapped herself in. Nate noticed that she hadn’t been to work, had begun to stay under the heavy bed covers all day, getting up only for chamomile tea and honey. One day, she looked out the window and found herself getting dressed in worn thin sweatpants and walking gingerly out to the car. She drove for three hours, trying desperately to find her old apartment, but she couldn’t remember, making wrong turns at every intersection. Every night, Nate held her tightly in his arms, his face buried in her knotted hair. Sometimes she grasped his hand, loving the embrace and loving him in a way that was only slightly different from how she felt about Ruby, but different enough to matter. She often woke up sweating from bad dreams, slipped out of Nate’s arms and dangled her feet in the pool, hoping to look up and find Ruby on the chaise.
They went to Ed Debevick’s, the cheesy retro dinner in Hollywood, pink and black checkers and gum chewing waitresses. They had all gone for Ruby’s birthday in May, succumbing to the waitresses demand that they lip synch and dance on the table for extra chocolate syrup on their banana split. None of them were in the mood to dance, or even really to eat, but they ordered cheeseburgers and milkshakes from the aggressive waitress anyway, hoping Ruby would laugh and sit down next to them. “I was joking,” she would say. “I went to Disneyland. I just wanted to go on the teacups!” she would giggle. They would dance for chocolate sauce and go home to the Canyon in Ben’s jeep.
They fidgeted with napkins and talked about mutual friends who were eloping, in rehab, getting a promotion, moving to Europe—anything but talking about themselves. When Ruby stopped on her bright white rollerblades in front of their table, Ivy looked at her in disbelief.
“Hi. Yes, I’m…I’m, um, working here now.”
Drake slid out from the booth and grasped the small of Ruby’s back with his arms.
“God, Ruby we have been worried. Why didn’t you call?”
She didn’t answer because the boys were already out of their seats, embracing her. She was much shorter than all of them, even in her rollerblades, and was surrounded on all sides by Drake, Ben, and Nate. Ivy sat in the booth, looking at the small part of Ruby’s stick thin legs that she could see through the gaps in the boys’ bodies. She inched toward to edge of the booth and slowly stood up. When the boys finally backed away from Ruby, Ivy stepped closer to embrace her, resting her head on Ruby’s the small crevice of her shoulder, refusing to let go. In her ear, she whispered, “I love you, too, Ruby.”