“Shit. I am so fucking late,” Riley mutters. She swiftly runs down the sidewalk, her Converse sneakers slapping the pavement. She turns into the alley and bangs open a grey metal door.
“Riley Thomas…where the hell is that girl?” Big Mike, the boss of Mike’s Grill, is saying.
“Here! I’m here!” Riley raises her hand. She stabs her nametag through her uniform shirt.
“Off to work, all of you!” Big Mike commands. As the other employees disperse, he points a chubby finger at Riley. “And you! This is the third time this week you’ve been late! Unacceptable! You’re fired!”
Riley rolls her eyes. “Playing Donald Trump, are we?”
Big Mike’s face reddens. “OUT!”
Riley slams open the metal door she had come through no less than five minutes ago.
Big Mike follows her halfway. “And have that uniform dry cleaned before you return it!”
“Fine!” Riley stomps down the sidewalk and sits on a bench. She checks her watch. Mark should appear in three, two, one…
“Riley!” Mark sits beside her on the bench. “That has to be like, what, the fourth time Mike has fired you this month?”
“Fifth. But who’s counting?”
Mark shakes his head. “Why do you keep doing that? What if he doesn’t hire you back one day?”
“He will,” Riley says assuredly. “It’s our routine now. Besides, he likes staring at my ass in this.” She fingers the fitted red waitress dress and wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.
“Dude, did not need to know that.”
“You used to do the same.”
Mark gazes at his hands and they’re quiet a few minutes. “What are you gonna do?” he finally asks.
“Like I always do. Walk around the park, cool off, and beg Mike for my job.”
Mark claps her shoulder. “See ya in an hour then, Ry.”
Riley buys popcorn from a vendor and begins her trek around the park. It’s mid-morning with a light breeze. Little kids are running through the park, dragging toys and mothers behind them. She smiles. I love Los Angeles, she thinks.
She moved here two years ago after high school to catch her “big break.” Or “your crazy dream,” as her parents so disapprovingly called it. They hadn’t been too happy about the move. Actually, they still weren’t.
Riley tosses her the empty popcorn container in a trash bin. Two years, she thinks sadly. I thought it would’ve happened by now.
“It” was becoming a famous rock star. Riley loved music, always had, and knew she wanted to do it for a living, somehow. She started singing at age five, playing guitar at age eight, and writing her own songs by age ten. She competed in all the talent shows and joined bands. But overall, rock superstardom wasn’t a priority in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The bands broke up and everyone moved on—except for Riley.
“Get your head out of the clouds!” her parents said. “Go to college!”
That’s not what Riley wanted at all. Much to the dismay of her parents, she packed her things, including her guitar, collected all the cash she had earned throughout her eighteen years, and moved to L.A. where dreams come true.
She got a job at an arts and crafts store and that was where she met Mark.
Riley smiles, remembering that day. Mark walked in the store and asked for her help. “I’m going to customize my guitar straps,” he said excitedly. They talked for awhile. He came in a few times every week and they both knew it had nothing to do with guitar straps.
Mark was shy and quiet, the opposite of outgoing Riley. He asked things like “Can I kiss you?,” he listened when she talked, and he kept lots of things about himself secret while expecting her to reveal everything about herself.
That was ultimately the downfall of their short romance. By then, they shared an apartment, Mark had gotten Riley a job at Mike’s Grill, and they had developed a close friendship. It only increased when they combined their music efforts.
It was a stormy day when they discovered this. It was too messy to go anywhere, so they were confined in the small apartment and grating on each other’s nerves. After a shouting match Mark angrily picked up his guitar and began playing. Riley recognized the tune and played the same on her guitar. Soon they were singing, playing other songs, and then writing their own on the spot.
“We sound fucking awesome together,” Mark said.
“Yeah,” Riley agreed.
Their future was sealed. Their band, which they later dubbed the Format, was formed right there. Riley expected it to take awhile before they found a bass player and drummer, but it hadn’t. Mark knew lots of people and introduced her to Dylan and Eric.
Dylan is very intelligent and worships Bob Dylan, though he swears it has nothing to do with the same name. He wears his bass high and thumps along, off in his own little world. Riley and Dylan don’t talk much, though they both that the other is nice.
Eric is hyperactive and suave, a total ladies’ man. In fact, the first thing he ever said to Riley was “Hey good-lookin’, what’s cookin’?” He parties hard, but can be serious when it comes down to it. It helps that he’s friendly and a kickass drummer.
Of course, they didn’t accept her initially. Riley woke up one night and heard the guys talking in the apartment’s cramped living room.
“Is she good though? I don’t wanna play for some poser or Britney or anything,” Dylan was saying.
Riley plugged her guitar into the amplifier, cranked the volume up, and raced into a Beatles song and then a Foo Fighters song. Finished, she walked out of her room. “Oh, hey guys, didn’t know anyone was here,” she said, pretending to be surprised.
“We’re in,” Dylan said.
“Show-off,” Mark teased when they left.
“Net worker.” She returned to bed, satisfied.
Dylan wasted no time, scheduling gigs as often as possible. They built up a local following. They recorded a cheap demo in Dylan’s basement using an old eight-track machine. Now they sold those demos at the regular gig they scored playing at Coffee Zone, a hip hangout for teens.
Enough reminiscing, Riley decides. Time to beg for my job. She puts on a guilty face and enters Mike’s office.
“I don’t know why I am this way, Mike,” she wails. “I can’t do anything right! You shouldn’t hire me!” She burst into fake tears. “It’s my hormones. My period is crazy!”
“There, there.” Big Mike shifts awkwardly on his feet. “You’re just growing up…I’ll hire you back…”
Riley blows her nose into the tissue he offers her. “Really?”
“Yeah. But this is the last time. I mean it!”
She joins Mark at the grill, grabs an ordering pad, and sticks a pen behind her ear.
“An hour. I’m impressed,” Mark comments.
“You should be.”