Franklin Jones was no stranger to trouble. It followed him around like a storm chaser. The wind was always blowing in the wrong direction to catch a break.
It was 3:00 am on the corner of Hollywood and Wilcox and Franklin could hear the music inside the Playhouse Club beating to the throbbing inside his head. She was in there. He knew she was in there. He wanted to go inside. He needed to see her.
Franklin exhaled slowly. He could see his breath and shivered. People say it never gets cold in Hollywood, but Franklin knew that hell does freeze over. He looked up at the starless sky and cursed his luck.
“Don’t fall in love with a singer.”
Jeff’s lips were still moving. He’d been mouthing the words. He was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Wilcox watching Franklin. He shivered.
“Jeff!” She said it again. Jeff’s eyes rose from the glare of the laptop, straining to focus. “It’s three-o-clock in the morning. What are you doing?” Jill stood in the doorway of his office.
The woman pushed open the door to the Playhouse Club. He recognized her immediately. She winked. Jeff closed his laptop.
Jill took a step closer. “I’m worried about you.” She only came as close as the edge of his desk. “I think we should talk about it.”
Jeff stood up. “I can’t. Not yet.”
The only light in the room was moonlight. Jeff stood in the dark. He could see the shape of her body through her nightgown.
“This isn’t like your other stories,” she said.
“I know. It’s different.”
“She’s perceptive, I’ll give her that.” The woman stood in a corner of the room. She still had her dancing shoes on.
“What are you doing here?” Jeff demanded.
“I’m scared, Jeff,” a glint of hurt touching Jill’s eyes.
“Not you,” Jeff said.
The woman in the corner laughed. “Love triangle, Jeffrey?”
“This is not a love triangle.”
“Who are you talking to?” Jill demanded.
Jeff looked at the woman. He had the sense she was beautiful, and, dangerous. He looked back at Jill. She stood there in the moonlight, afraid, vulnerable. They had been together a long time. He wanted them to be together forever. He took a step around the desk and reached to touch her.
Jill stepped back.
Jeff shifted his weight to one foot. He was suddenly very tired.
“I’m flattered, Jeffrey.” Jeff held his breath and scowled at the woman.
Jill folded her arms across her chest. “Your muse is a… woman?”
Jeff shifted his weight again. “Yes…but…”
“You used to say I was your muse.”
She doesn’t believe me.
A tear drop caught moonlight in the corner of her eye. “What happened, Jeff? What is happening to us?”
“Nothing’s happening to us.”
“Clearly something is going on with your relationship,” the woman said.
“Be quiet,” Jeff barked.
“She’s here right now?”
“No…” Jeff waved his arms in frustration. “Yes…I guess.” He put his arms on Jill’s shoulders. “You know I’m making this stuff up, right?”
She shrugged him off. “Don’t touch me.”
“You can sleep on the couch.” She turned and stormed out.
“How long?” Jeff called after her. She didn’t answer.
“Men are clueless,” the woman said.
“As if you would know.”
“Of course I know, Jeffrey. I’m your muse.” The woman sat down on Jeff’s leather couch, and crossed her legs.
Jeff sat back down at his desk. “Now what?” he said to himself.
“Give me a name, Jeffrey.”
The woman blended into the darkness of the couch. Jeff couldn’t make out her features. Moonlight glinted off her stiletto heals.
“Clara Malloy,” Jeff said. He’d been thinking about her name for a while.
“Clara Malloy,” the woman repeated, slowly. Her voice was soft and sad. She said her name with the melancholy angst of unfulfilled dreams and unrequited love.
Clara leaned into the moonlight. “Thank you, Jeff.” Her eyes were dark, shadowed. Her hair was black with glinting highlights. Jeff could tell her lips were full and moist and dark with lipstick. His eyes lingered, wanting more detail.
“You had better go,” he said.
“But…the story,” she said.
“It’s my story,” Jeff said.
“I’m telling it,” She said.
“Hello there, Joe.” Franklin Jones stood in the doorway pointing a gun at Jeff. “Clara.” Franklin tipped his hat.
“Frank,” Clara smirked.
“What’s going on?” Jeff demanded.
“I saw you outside the club,” Franklin said. “I followed you here.”
“You can’t do that?”
“She’s here. Isn’t she?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You should write this down,” Clara said.
“She’s upstairs, isn’t she?” Franklin demanded.
“You’ve got this all wrong, Frank. Charlotte’s not here.”
Frank’s pearl handle .45 caliber glinted in the moonlight. “You’re lying to me, Joe.”
“Joe? My names’s not Joe. Are you nuts?”
“I saw you talking to her through the window, in her nightgown.”
Realization dawned on Franklin.
“You’re sleeping with her aren’t you?” Franklin pulled the lever back on his .45.
“Not tonight, I’m not.”
“Not ever.” Franklin pulled the trigger. The flash was blinding. The pain was exquisite.
“You should have written this down.”
Jeff opened his eyes. Liquid pooled on the keys of his laptop.
Five-year-old Hayleigh stuck her finger into the stream of fluid oozing from the corner of Jeff’s mouth and giggled. Jeff sat up. The QWERTY keyboard checkered his face. “It’s time to take me to pre-school.”
Jeff stood up. His head hurt. His heart hurt. He checked his body for bullet holes.
“I dunno.” Hayleigh scooted out of his office. “Let’s go.”
Jeff tried to wipe the saliva from his keyboard. He wasn’t sure it would still work..
“I’m losing it,” Jeff whispered as he followed Hayleigh out of the room.
“You should be writing,” Clara said.
Jeff looked back. The room was empty.