New Orleans, Louisiana
March 3rd 1924
“C’mon, Gwen!” Joanna called as she hurried across the road to the Cineplex. Gwen shook her head and laughed, she held onto her straw hat, looked left and right and ran after her friend. She took Jo’s hand and pulled her through the doors of the Cineplex. There, as ever, was Taylor James, behind the ticket booth. He flashed them a wicked smile before giving Gwen a wink that she knew was especially for her.
“Evening, ladies. What can I do for ya?”
“Hi, Taylor,” Gwen sung, “Two tickets to the next screening of Salomé please.”
Taylor flashed her another smile and Gwen fluttered her eyelashes.
“Feeling cultural are we ladies?” he inquired.
“I find Wilde so… fascinatin’, he gives such a great insight into British culture,” Gwen replied with an air to her tone.
“Ya’ do realise, that this film is from his time in France, don’cha, Gwen?”
Gwen rolled her eyes; “Of course!” she laughed.
Tyler smiled and handed over the tickets, deliberately ensuring that their hands touched for one brief moment. Gwen lingered a moment, looking him briefly in the eye.
“Thanks, Taylor,” she whispered.
“C’mon, Gwen!” Jo beckoned as she made her way towards the stairs. With a quick glance back at him, Gwen quickly chased after her friend.
* * *
The diner was quite busy and people constantly streamed in through the door. Gwen wrapped her hands around her coffee and looked up at Jo, who she could tell was itching to strike up a conversation.
Joanna Snowdon was a pretty, twenty year old brunette who originally hailed from Austin, Texas. Gwen had first met her when she started working at The Box Bar, back last June. Jo was not slim, but had a curvy figure that would be seen by many men to be highly desirable. She was a chatty, energetic young woman whom Gwen has a lot of time for. Her only, minimal defect, was the fact that she was outrageously nosey, and often didn’t know where the line was drawn…
“So! You and Tyler, eh?” she finally burst.
“I was waiting for that one,” Gwen replied, looking up at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Well? What did you expect, Gwen?! You didn’t honestly think I wouldn’t say something did you? C’mon, Gwen, hun, this is me we’re talking about.”
“Actually, we weren’t, you were talking about ‘me and Tyler’, apparently.”
“Alright, testy! But seriously, how longs this been goin’ on?”
“It hasn’t been ‘going on’, Jo! God!”
“So, you’re just friends… ?”
“Just friends,” Gwen sighed with relief.
“Friends with benefits, more like,” Jo muttered.
“What’s that s’posed to mean?!”
“Oh, c’mon, Gwen! You sneakin’ into the apartment at 5 in the morning. I find ripped panties in the bedroom, and then Tyler acting like this today! What was I s’posed to think?”
“I worked late,” Gwen explained, weakly.
Jo raised one eyebrow; “And the stockings?”
“I caught them on the cab door.”
“Yeah, right. Gwen. C’mon, this is me you’re talking to. I ain’t gonna tell anyone. What’s really goin’ on?”
“Nothin’, Jo! God. Just keep your nose outta my business.”
A waitress came over at this point with a stern look on her face.
“Look, you ladies gotta keep it down or I’m gonna have to make ya leave, okay?” she said, calmly, twiddling her pen on the notepad that she was carrying.
“That’s fine. Sorry, we’re leaving.” Gwen replied, getting up and throwing some money on the table for the coffee and grabbing her bag and coat, then stormed out of the diner. Jo quickly followed, shooting an uneasy and apologetic look at the waitress who watched them leave.
“Just leave it, Jo. Okay?”
“No, Gwen, we’re s’posed to be best friends. And that ain’t exactly easy when you’re bein’ so uptight with me!”
Gwen span round on her heels, with a face of thunder. She glowered at Jo, fists clenched at her side. She opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and closed it again. Gwen let out a muffled scream of frustration, turned at strutted away down the street. Jo buckled with frustration, and looked around, trying to hold back the tears. The moon was dimmed somewhat by the surrounding diner lighting and street lamps that paved the way back to the apartment where Gwen could be seen fading away. Jo shook her head and ran after her.
* * *
Jo was still hurrying after her when she turned the key in the lock of the apartment door. She opened the door, leaving it ajar for Jo. Gwen kicked her shoes off at the wall and headed for the kitchen, opened a cupboard and grabbed a glass, setting it down on the worktop. She opened the pantry and rummaged around for the bottle of wine.
“Gwen. C’mon, babe. Don’t be like this. I didn’t mean it. You know I gotta big trap.”
“Yeah, and a big fat nose to match!” Gwen snapped back.
Jo stopped in her tracks and her mouth dropped open.
“You did not just say that!”
Gwen just looked at her, swirling the glass of wine under her nose. Tears brimmed in Jo’s eyes. One overflowed and trickled down her cheek.
“Babe, I’m sorry,” Gwen said, setting the glass back down on the worktop.
Jo held out a hand in refusal, turning away and heading back down the corridor. Gwen tried following her;
“Na ah,” Jo cried, “I think you’d better sleep on the couch tonight.”
With that, she slammed the bedroom door. Gwen pressed her hand against the door and rested her head on the doorframe. After a moment, she slid down onto the floor. She could hear Jo sobbing from inside the room.
“Jo?” she asked. Silence. She knew it was pointless. It would just have to wait until morning.
Reluctantly, Gwen got to her feet and sauntered into the living room. She picked up a blanket from beside the couch and threw herself onto it, covering herself with the blanket. She hadn’t realised how exhausted she felt, so she quickly fell asleep.
* * *
As the early morning tram rumbled past, Gwen awoke suddenly, as usual. The bright lights filtered in through the net curtains. Gwen smoothed her bleary eyes with her thumbs, then swung her legs onto the cold floor. She got up and padded across the hallway to the bedroom. Trying the door handle, she was surprised to find it unlocked. Jo had come round quicker than Gwen thought she would have. Gwen pushed the door open and padded across to where Jo lay, taking a quick glance at her own bed, which lay unmade – just the way she liked it. She smiled, stopped at Jo’s bed and peeled back the covers. Jo stirred, and turned to look at her, a look of sorrow on her tear and make-up streaked face.
“D’you mind?” Gwen asked.
Jo remained silent for a moment, judging Gwens tone and facial expression, then deciding all was safe, shuffled over and invited her in. Gwen clambered in in a hurry. The house was cold and the warmth of Jo’s bed was highly inviting. She snuggled closely into the body of her friend.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Jo clasped hold of Gwens hand and squeezed it gently.
“I know,” Jo whispered back.
Gwen breezed into the club, her heels clacking against the tiled floor.
“Morning Gerry!” she called over to the bartender. Gerry looked down at his watch.
“Shit, is it that time already!” she panicked, hurrying into the locker room.
“Uh huh. You know New Orleans, Gwen! Time is always running away from you.”
“Don’t I know it! … Shit, Pete is gonna be so mad!”
“He already asked if you were here yet.”
“Dammit,” Gwen muttered, slamming her locker shut.
Gwen knocked on Pete’s door and bit her lip with a weak fear.
“Yeah!” the bellow erupted from within the office before her. Gwen turned the handle and let herself in.
Pete was a hulking great figure with broad shoulders and a face that was comparable to a Pit-bull. He had violent mood swings and you could never tell how you were going to catch him. Most of the time, however, he was one of the most fun people Gwen knew. He sat behind his desk with his hands clasped together in front of him.
“Gwen! There’s a music big shot comin’ to the club tonight, lookin’ for new, raw, talent – and I want you to be headlinin’ tonight’s show. Understood?”
Gwen stood in a dumbstruck silence before her boss.
“That’s what I said. D’you reckon you’re up to it?”
“Wha’ -?! Well, of course! When have you ever known me to throw down a challenge?”
“That’s my girl. Curtain goes up at –”
“Seven o’clock – I know!” she sang sweetly as she glided out of his office.
“You look happy,” Gerry commented as she re-entered the main bar.
“Well, wouldn’t you be if you were headlinin’ tonight’s show?” Gwen breathed, excitedly, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh my God, Gwen! Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Gerry. I knew I could count on you.”
“So! You excited?”
“Bring it on.”
* * *
Asleep on my bed
Dreams of you
But when I wake
The World isn’t the same, without you
Look out into the morning sky,
I’m down by the riverside
Where we used to walk by and by
Hand in hand, You and I
She felt high as she sung each note with such intensity and passion. She felt a shiver run down her spine and closed her eyes as the sole violin played its instrumental. As she finished the song the audience that were packed into the club, erupted into raucous applause. Gwen couldn’t help but grin cheekily.
“Thank you,” she puffed and went straight into the next song.
When she finished the set, she bowed to the audience and left the stage, trying to make her way through the bar, through the throng of people congratulating her on a good show.
“Well done, girl. That was awesome.”
“Get me a double, Gerry!” she pleaded.
“Comin’ up,” he replied with a smile.
Gwen leant against the bar, breathing deeply, trying to calm herself down and replenish her oxygen supplies. The last note of the last song really took it out of her. As she waited for Gerry to come back with her drink, she heard someone coming up behind her. As she turned around, she was taken by surprise, as it wasn’t Jo, or Taylor, who she thought it might be. Instead, it was a man who she had never seen before.
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
“That’s quite alright, Gwen… Really nice work out there tonight. You have a surprisingly mature voice for someone so young.”
“Um, I’m not quite sure what to say to that…?”
“Sorry…” the man apologised. There was a pause, that rapidly turned into an awkward silence, “I’m Jimmy. Jimmy Wilde.”
Gwens eyes widened. She now knew exactly who this man was. This was the man who Pete had told her about. Well, roughly at least. Who she had often read about in the papers and dreamed about meeting. This was the man, who could either make, or break her career with the flick of a pen.
“Oh my God! I am so sorry, please, take a seat,” Gwen said, slightly hysterical.
“Thanks,” Jimmy replied. Was he blushing?
There was another pause between them before Jimmy spoke again.
“Look, I gotta go. But let me give you my card… and, um … gimmee a call.” He rummaged around in his jacket pocket and extracted a small rectangle of card.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Gwen,” he said with a smile. And as quickly as he had come, he was gone.
Gwen turned into the bar and Gerry reappeared with a shot of Gin in his hand.
“Who was that!” she asked with a deep interest.“That. Was my future,” Gwen replied.