Winner Takes it All (JemCon fan-fic contest entry WINNER 2015)
Short Story by: Luthien Luinwe
Winner Takes it All
By: Lúthien Lúinwë
Pops was dead. At seventeen years old, Roxanne Pellegrini was truly alone in the world; the last of her family being buried in the Philadelphia cemetery on a sunny spring day. She had some living relatives, but it was better that she didn’t know where they were. Her mom took off with some guy when she was a baby, and her dad was a no-good drunk.
Pops, her grandfather on her mom’s side, was her only source of stability in her young life. He told her stories and taught her how to play cards; she was the best poker player in the Red Aces and anyone who dared to play against Roxanne Pellegrini was gonna lose their shirts.
Pops taught her how to be independent and how to get by on her wits. It looked like now, she was gonna need it; because she had no one left now but herself, and it was gonna take a lot to survive.
“So what are you gonna do now?” Andy asked, on their way to the party where their band was playing that night.
Roxanne shrugged. “I dunno. Haven’t thought about it, really.”
“Well, you should.” Andy said as he gently touched her shoulder. “Roxanne, you don’t wanna be kicking around with the Red Aces forever. You got some real talent, and I don’t think you oughta be wasting it here in Philly. You’ll be eighteen in just a few months; this is a real chance for you to make a fresh start.”
Roxanne laughed. “What, and break up our band?”
Andy waved off her comment. “What band? You’re the main attraction!”
“Come off it, Andy,” Roxanne shook her head, “I can’t break up our band. You taught me how to play music. I can’t just dump you off to the side like that. If anyone’s got the talent around here, it’s you.”
Andy shook his head. “No, Roxanne; I know how to play music and I do okay at it, but it ain’t where my heart is. It don’t matter to me, but it matters to you. That’s the difference.”
Roxanne was silent for a moment. “I dunno, Andy. It’s a big step.”
“What have you got here for you in Philly?” Andy asked. “Your grandpa’s gone now, you got no reason to stay here anymore. The Red Aces? They’re all going nowhere, and I don’t wanna see you end up like them. Our band? You could find another gig anywhere.”
Roxanne turned to him. “You don’t think there’s anything else here for me?”
Andy touched her face. “Me? You’d stay for me?”
She nodded. “You’re the best friend I got.”
“Then I gotta do the only thing a best friend can do, and let you fly free and live your dreams. Go out there and make your Pops proud of you.”
Roxanne bristled at the mention of Pops, but deep down, she knew Andy was right. He knew, better than anyone, the dream that burned in her heart to go out to California so she could make it in music. It was loyalty to Pops that had kept her here.
Andy was right. Maybe she could have loved him, if things were different; but she wanted this too much. Music was her true passion, and if she had to admit it to herself, she would have stepped on anyone to get it.
“All in.” Roxanne’s game face was on, and the bass guitar sat in the middle of the table. It was all or nothing; either she was winning this hand and starting her new life, or she was gonna lose everything and live like a bum in Philly for the rest of her days.
“All in.” Link tossed his gold chain on the table, his prized possession.
The dim, smoky room that was the Red Aces hangout was silent, but for the shuffling and slapping of cards on the table. The rest of the gang watched in wordless awe as Link and Roxanne played the hand that would decide who walked away with all the booty. Half of the room feared Link too much to bet against him, and the other half knew Roxanne’s skills as a card player too well to bet against her.
“Read ‘em and weep,” Link smirked as he laid his cards out. “Four of a kind. I win.”
Roxanne’s face was impassive. She couldn’t read, but she knew the pictures on each card and what they meant. She slowly set her hand down, as everyone in the room let out a collective gasp of surprise when they saw Roxanne’s cards staring back at them.
“Royal flush,” she said calmly. “I win.”
Andy dropped her off at the bus station and kissed her goodbye. “Good luck.” he said.
Roxanne nodded. “Thanks for everything, Andy.”
“I’ll miss you, Roxanne,” Andy said, “the next time I hear news of you, I want it to be from the music magazines or on MTV…ya got it?”
She laughed. “You bet, buster!”
As Roxanne watched Andy walk to his car, she thought of what he said about seeing her name in the papers, and felt that “Roxanne” was too fancy a name for a rock star.
She was eighteen now, and starting a new life; it was only right that she start out with a new identity and a new name. She decided to pay tribute to Pops by taking the name that only he called her. Everyone was going to know her now by the name that Pops gave her as a little kid.
Roxy, was what he called her. And Roxy she would be.
By the time she got to L.A., she not only had a new name, but a new look as well. During an overnight stop in Iowa or Ohio (Roxy could never remember the names of all those states), she went into a drugstore and for a few bucks, found what she needed to transform from teenage derelict to a rock goddess in the making.
In the bathroom sink at the bus station, she dyed her dull, mousy brown hair to a shocking white mane, teased it with a comb and used the hair spray to make sure it stayed nice and big. From there, she painted her face with bright orange lipstick, gold eye shadow, and slashes of purple painted on either side of her face. She took an old black blouse from her bag, ripped off one of the long sleeves, and wore it with some fake pearls, and a pair of colorful pants.
No one gave her any notice when she went into the bathroom an hour earlier. When she came out, all heads turned to look at her. She already felt like a star.
When she first got to L.A., she made some quick money playing her acoustic guitar on the corner outside the bus station. From there, she took a cab to Hollywood and pawned the gold chain she won from Link. She then had enough to rent a room at a shabby old hotel that offered rooms to rent for all those aspiring actresses looking to live on the cheap while waiting for their big break.
During the day, she walked up and down Sunset Strip, playing her guitar on various street corners for money. At night, she sat in the main room of the old hotel, jamming on her bass while all the other girls practiced their lines, pored over fashion magazines for makeup tips, or swapped clothes so that they each had something new to wear on their next audition. They all had foofy names like Tiffany or Heather, and they were all trying to be actresses. They were nice enough, but Roxy had little in common with them so she didn’t socialize very much. She had been living like this for over six months, and still hadn’t found a band to play with. Roxy wondered if her luck would ever change.
“Hey, Roxy!” one of the Tiffany/Heather girls called out to her as she was plugging in her bass guitar. The girl tossed her a newspaper. “You’ve been looking for a gig? There’s an ad here in the paper tomorrow for an audition. You should go and try out.”
Roxy didn’t want to show that she couldn’t read what was in the ad, so she gave it a quick glance and nodded. “Sure, I’ll check it out.” she said.
The girl’s long, painted fingernail pointed at the spot in the paper where the ad was obviously printed. “If I were you, I wouldn’t wait too long,” she advised, “the audition is being held at Starlight Music, one of the biggest record companies around. This might be the big break you’ve been looking for.”
“You don’t say?” Roxy asked, pretending to look over the ad. “Starlight Music, eh? I guess I can go down there and see what it’s all about. What have I got to lose?”
“My name is Eric Raymond.” the man introduced himself as Roxy stepped into the fancy office on the top floor of the big building with an image of a shooting star emblazoned across the glass windows. “I’m the vice-president of Starlight Music, but the current president is in frail health and has turned over most of the responsibility to me. It’s my job to find new talent for the label, so I want to form a band that is sure to take the world by storm, and secure my place as future president of this company once my predecessor steps down.”
Roxy rolled her eyes. “Bo-ring.”
Eric Raymond chuckled. “Perhaps you have so many lucrative offers in the music business that you don’t need a record contract after all?”
Roxy had no idea what all those big words meant, but the ones that stood out were the ones that meant most to her: “record contract”. She shook her head, keeping her trap shut.
“That’s better,” Eric continued. “Anyway, I like your look. You have that edgy style that’s just what I’m looking for, so now let’s hear if you can play music. You don’t have to be extremely skilled; I’m not looking for a band of musical prodigies, I’m looking for a band that will shake up the competition.”
“Then I’m your gal.” Roxy said confidently.
“I can see that,” he agreed, “you’re one of the missing pieces I’ve been looking for to make my creation complete. I’m putting together an all-girl group; but not your typical goody-goody bubblegum pop princesses. This band will be called The Misfits: a group of tough girls with edge and attitude. I can see you possess that in spades.”
Roxy didn’t understand what he meant by that, but she kept nodding her head. “Yeah, I can be tough, and I got plenty of attitude. What’s that gotta do with playing music?”
“Because we’re putting this band together to win, and winning is everything.” a voice said from behind her, and Roxy turned around, not noticing that there had been anyone else in the room with them.
A woman was sitting on a leather couch, and she looked to be about her age. Her hair was dyed a bright lime-green, and she was wearing outlandish clothes just like Roxy’s; her get-up was this pink and zebra-print ensemble that would have looked ridiculous in Philly, but somehow worked perfectly in Hollywood. She casually smoked a cigarette, her high-heeled feet on the expensive couch.
“May I present to you Pizzazz, the frontwoman of the Misfits?” Eric Raymond gestured to the woman on the couch, and Roxy leaned over to shake her hand.
“I’m Roxy.” she introduced herself.
Pizzazz took a puff off her cigarette. “Charmed.”
“I still don’t get it,” Roxy said, turning back to the subject at hand, “are you looking for someone who can play music, or someone who’s got attitude? Don’t you care if I can play?”
“What does it matter?” Eric asked. “In case you haven’t noticed, the music scene has changed a lot in the last few years. The music video is king. All it takes is having the right image to become a success. Look at how many bands out there have shot to stardom overnight, all by having a crazy hairdo or outlandish clothes. Musical talent has nothing to do with it; that can be worked on, but the image has to be in place already, and you have that image I’m looking for.”
“But if you insist on showing us what you got, feel free, by all means.” Pizzazz said.
Roxy plugged in her bass, and showed off a bass line she came up with the night before. Within a few notes, Pizzazz joined in on her guitar and came up with a vocal line. “Outta my way…keep outta my way…outta my way…I ain’t playin’ around…”
“That’s good!” Roxy said, impressed.
“It’s a start, but I can’t write songs worth a lick,” Pizzazz confessed. “I can come up with a couple of ideas, but I’ve got better things to do than slave away trying to write a catchy tune.”
“Me either,” Roxy confessed, “we need someone who can put this stuff together and make us sound tough, because we really got something here—” she bit her lip, realizing that she spoke as if she already had the gig in the bag.
“We’ll find that songwriter type, all in good time.” Eric assured them, and looked over at Roxy. “So, do you want the job?”
“Do I?” Roxy asked excitedly. “You bet I do!”
“Welcome to The Misfits,” Pizzazz shook Roxy’s hand. “I want our band to rule the world!”
“You make it sound so easy, Pizzazz.” Roxy said.
“I’m used to getting what I want,” said Pizzazz, “and I’ve never wanted anything more.”
Roxy was silent, thinking to herself that Pizzazz almost echoed her own thoughts. She could tell already that they were kindred spirits; two of a kind, both of them reaching for the same goal at any cost.
If Roxy had learned anything in all her years of playing cards, it was that sometimes you just had to go all in and risk everything, because you knew you had a good hand. This was one of those times.
Roxy smiled at her new friend and partner in crime. “It’s all or nothing,” she said, “and we’re takin’ it all!”
© Copyright 2017 Luthien Luinwe. All rights reserved.