He taps a generic “thank you” message, but the commenter’s words stick with him

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           Jake chugs a mixture of spices he found in his pantry, vodka, and tomato juice from a shaker bottle he usually uses for protein drinks. “The hair of the dog,” he cheers before downing the concoction. He follows the mix with two espresso shots and a squirt of eye drops in each orb. 

          Standing several stories above the city, he walks across the marble floor into his condo’s living room. Sun filters in through the glass wall, offering an expansive view of the city’s skyline. Jake, conditioned by luxury, plops down on his modern leather couch and puts his bare feet atop his industrial-style coffee table. The leather feels cold on his back, a shock to his bare skin, but it helps loosen the monkey on his back. 

      His phone again vibrates in the pocket of his sweatpants, stirring him from the momentary silence. It’s been going off since last night, but he’s yet to open it. After gigs, his manager uploads highlights of his set, and the ensuing onslaught of likes, tags, and notifications serve as his wake-up call. He takes it out, opens it, and scrolls through the lengthy list of comments, compliments, pickup lines, and random insults when he reaches a change in pace.  

           The words from this fan compliment his music, not his face, body, or tattoo collection. He sits up and looks over the commenter’s profile and notes the last upload was from over two years ago, a picture of a younger man and an older woman by a palm tree, maybe him and his mother on a tropical vacation. He wonders.

           Jake taps on his fan’s tagged photos and sees distant images of him on stage with other musicians. His tall frame peeks out over the top of a cello. He wears a peaceful but concentrated expression, with his eyes focused on the sheet music as he plays. Jake goes back to the comment on his gig post with his fingers hovering over the keyboard. 

           He taps a generic “thank you” message, but the commenter’s words stick with him, and he sends a heartfelt message instead, with a thumbs-up to close. A repetitive dinging from his laptop steals his attention. It’s his manager. Jake answers the video call and listens to his rambling feedback from the night before and his advice for his next gig. The exchange is brief, but not short enough. Jake hangs up on his manager mid-sentence while he’s talking about what kind of music he needs to be writing for his album to get picked up by a major label.

“Forget that sentimental guitar shit,” he says. “Your fans want the beats. They want to shake their asses and have fun.” Jake rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He’s heard it before, and judging by the traffic his music is seeing, the manager isn’t wrong. But that’s the problem. 

        Rather than dwelling on unwanted adulation, Jake puts his head through the neck of a t-shirt he fashioned by cutting the sides open to reveal his abs and makes a beeline for the bathroom for a quick breath and smell check. A few swipes with his toothbrush, a gulp of mouthwash, a dab of deodorant, and he’s ready to go. He grabs his duffel bag and heads to the swanky gym on the pool level of his building. 

       Two of his buddies that live above him are already there flexing in front of the mirror. Nathan, the shorter one, is a prosperous stockbroker with perfect teeth. He’s brilliant and attractive, but too narcissistic to keep any steady friends. While Kevin, the taller of the two, believes a personal training career is his future, but he denies his steroid addiction and his road rage is severe. They aren’t really friends, but they make a pair posing, feeding each other’s ego. 

         “Hey, chap! Great set last night. I scored three phone numbers and took two home with me. Whatever you’re doing, it works,” says Kevin as he puts down his dumbbell. He punches Jake on the shoulder and sticks out his tongue like a panting dog. Jake offers half a laugh, nods, and heads for the corner cage with the squat bar. 

           Finishing his time on the bike, Nathan walks over and leans on the rack, watching Jake strap a support belt around his waist.” You all right? Party too hard last night?” 

          “Something like that,” says Jake. He engulfs a deep breath of air and squats, his knees cracking on the way down. On the way back up, he lets out a long exhalation that still reeks of alcohol. “Do you recall any of the songs I played last night?” 

           Nathan’s blinding white smile flattens into a thoughtful grimace. “Should I?” He finally asks. Jake shakes his head and offers half a smile. 

           “Nah, don’t fret about it.” Jake finishes his reps on the squat rack and moves onto dumbbells. Meanwhile, his neighbors follow him like groupies and chatter like a gaggle of girls. They tag themselves on posts and start sharing their location with their friends. The last thing he wants today, a crowd. He tunes them out the best he can but ends up cutting his set in half and skips the treadmill. 

       By the time Jake finishes packing his duffle and saying his goodbyes, he can’t get back to his apartment fast enough. On the way up, his phone rings again. It’s his promoter. Jake hits ignore and shuts his eyes. The fluorescent elevator light glows pink through his burning eyelids. He listens to the dinging and clacking as the conveyor climbs the floors. Ding. Clack. Ding. Clack. Jake sighs and opens his lock screen to read the following texts. 

“Your agent said you ignored him.”

           “Answer your phone, Jake.” 

           “Diego needs your playlist.” 

           Jake repeatedly pushes the open door button over and over until it no longer dings. “hurry on up,” he demands from the control panel on the wall. When the elevator arrives on his floor and the doors finally part open, he storms out, speeds down the hall, and jerks open his apartment door. He enters and slams it shut behind him with a thud that reverberates down the building’s concrete structure.

WE&P by EZorrilla

Original story by Breanna Leslie



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