Brie darts into a parking spot on Melrose and walks up La Brea counting numbers beneath streetlights until she arrives at a two-story cinderblock building the color of a storm cloud. LA BREA PULP & PAPER is fading from the cornice. At street level, the windows are mirrored with that rainbow swirl you see in oil slicks, so all she can see is her reflection. She is trying very hard not to replay the words of Danny's mother in her head, but the sight of herself brings her back into her skin. The thought of not being good enough...
From inside, the dull throb of a bass line. The door is thick with dried drips of glossy black paint and in the center there is a copper horsehead doorknocker with a ring in its mouth.
Brie palms the head and pushes the door open.
The space inside is improvised. Edison bulbs hang from a cottage cheese ceiling that someone decided to scrape smooth and then, a half-hour later, decided to stop. A confetti-flecked Formica counter runs the width of the room, where raw-edged hipsters sit on paint-stained shop stools sipping cocktails out of mason jars. A waif-thin Japanese girl with buckteeth is spinning records in the corner wearing a shirt that says, I'm on my period.
Some sexy black kid with white hair and lanky muscles is toking from a vaporizer shaped like the elephant deity. He flashes Brie a bright smile and holds the mouthpiece out to her. "No thanks," she says, scanning the room for Marian. It's plain to see that she's not here, nor should she be. The average age in the room is probably twenty-three. Brie is trying to locate the bartender, but the only person exuding authority is the red-headed dude with the Jew fro rolling vegan sushi for the crowd. He's blasting some slab of soy product with the blue flame of a kitchen torch, saying, "It's all about toasting the tempeh."
If only this were true.
She's about to ask the tempeh master if he knows Marian, when the far wall opens up. A girl in a white strapless dress stumbles out of a freight elevator and Brie pushes past a stand of skinnies to beat the closing doors. Inside, the walls are scuffed and yellowed. Black stenciled letters spell out COME TO ME ALL WHO ARE WEARY AND HEAVY-LADEN AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST. Someone saw fit to add (and HPV) to the end in green Sharpie. Brie presses the big black rubber button and the elevator lurches, dropping a foot before groaning back upward. A small sign above the door explains your cell phone will not work inside the factory. When the big box clashes with its upper limit, the doors crack two inches, enough for the scent of incense and cigarette smoke to reach her. A pair of pudgy hands wedge themselves inside to pry the doors open, and their success reveals a pretty, heavyset Latina with shaved eyebrows. She stares expectantly at Brie.
"Thatta girl." She whips out an iPad mini. "Will you be lounging or floating?"
Brie makes a thinking sound.
"You wanna rent a parlor?"
"A private room, like a cabana. They're a thousand a night and I got two left."
Brie peers past the woman's broad shoulders into the vast space beyond. A pitched and peeling timber ceiling anchors a hodgepodge of massive chandeliers burning at their lowest light, casting only firelight onto the shantytown beneath. Tapestries, thick velvet curtains, and vibrant Indian batiks are tented over metal frames, creating a network of connected, cushioned cubicles where people sit and lay. The scene looks like a midnight bazaar where the requisite beverage is Veuve Clicquot.
"I'll float," Brie tells her and steps into the space, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. The music is shoegaze meets hip-hop meets someone blowing into a harmonica somewhere behind the fabrics. There is a path cutting through the center and Brie follows it, feeling swallowed by the patchwork of materials. A swift kick to one of the support poles could probably bring the whole extravaganza down.
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Brie Baggio thinks she's ready... for marriage, kids, the whole shebang. She's pushing forty, and even though she's the Senior Anti-Aging Ambassador at Los Angeles's hottest med spa, Botox can't paralyze that nagging feeling that it's now or never...