As I sat at my vanity applying my makeup in my bathrobe, I watched Brandt dress into his tuxedo. He looked so good in his traditional tuxedo, tailored just for him. It showed off his broad shoulders and slimmer waist as well as gave him a nice-looking backside. He slicked back his hair to keep it in place but it didn’t look greasy or unclean. Actually, he looked utterly handsome, and I couldn’t wait to get him back into the bedroom later.
I, on the other hand, was a bundle of nerves. I painstakingly took my time with my makeup and hair, making sure nothing dared moved out of place. It took too long to make up my mind if I wanted my hair and makeup done up by a professional. It would have been easier, but I didn’t want to come out looking fake. Brandt would have found someone if I had asked but all the fuss over me would have made me more nervous. The way it was, I wanted to throw up.
Brandt called up from the stairs and reminded me I only had ten minutes before Louis arrived to take us to the banquet hall. Like I needed reminding. I had been on pins and needles all week. The only good thing about this was Hailey would be there. I hurried over to my gown laying on the bed and just stared at it before putting it on, it was so beautiful I hoped to do it justice.
Letting the evening gown fall all around me as I pulled it over my head felt heavenly. Fine silk caressed my skin. The straps in back crisscrossed fashionably across my shoulder blades and caused me to go without a bra, making me feel more exposed than I had ever been. The lower neckline would have concerned me even more, but it was tight enough that nothing showed when I tested it and bent forward. My nipples hardened with the feel of the silk rubbing against them, making me want to hold my arms across my chest the rest of the night. Although it was tight in the chest and hips, it still had enough room to glide over my skin when I moved. The crimson color gave a rosy hue to my cheeks and paler Wisconsin skin. Paired with a gold purse and gold stilettos, I had to admit I felt beautiful. That should help my nerves a little. Confidence, right?
Brandt alerted me to Louis pulling up in the driveway, and I took one more look at myself in the mirror. Confidence. Confidence. Confidence. It didn’t do the trick as I was still nervous. Okay, then. Do this for Brandt. That seemed to work. I stiffened my back and grabbed the matching crimson scarf to use as an arm drape and walked to the stairs.
Descending the stairs, I noticed Brandt by the door looking out the front window and making sure his cufflinks situated on his sleeves the right way. He turned and looked up at me, and when he did, he did a double-take making me smile at him. Initially, his look was one of excitement but then it turned to the most intense look I had ever seen on his face. He scanned my whole body but settled on my eyes. His facial features softened, and he had a look of complete awe and devotion. His beautiful blue eyes expressed tranquility and love in one glance and it brought butterflies to my stomach, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs, my legs were a little wobbly. Taking his hands in mine, I whispered, “Please always look at me the way you are looking at me right now.”
He smiled. “You are breathtaking.” I swallowed and felt tears of tenderness in the back of my eyes. Please don’t cry. My makeup took too long to put on just right.
Brandt held tight to both of my arms and bent down and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you for coming with me tonight.” I smiled but couldn’t talk, emotion tightening my throat. “Are you ready to go?” I nodded, and he dropped my arms and opened the door for me. I started out the door and felt his hand on the small of my back. With that one little touch, I could relax.
Louis stood by the car and smiling at the two of us. I was so happy he would be here to take us. He drove me around back in Wisconsin when I was so nervous, I thought I would pee myself and now he returned to help lend strength for tonight. “Louis, how are you?” I gave him a big hug which didn’t go with his business-like manner, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Miss Chelsea, you look stunning and Mr. Roberts you are looking debonair yourself.”
Brandt laughed, “Thank you, Louis. How is California treating you?”
“Wonderful and busier thanks to you.”
Brandt waved it off, “You do an excellent job, Louis. Word would have gotten out regardless.” I knew Brandt’s recommendation helped to build up his business and it made me glad. Good people deserved good things.
Louis helped us into the limo and pulled out of the driveway. My stomach tangled in knots again. It was one thing to be photographed by the media by accident yet another to stand there and have our picture taken on purpose. TV, magazines, tabloids, newspapers. I needed to stop thinking about this.
Noticing my unease, Brandt offered me a drink from the small bar in the back. “Drink?”
“Hell no. I am nervous enough without getting drunk and making an ass out of myself and you.”
He leaned in, “You could never disappoint me.”
“Well, then how about having my wits about me? These shoes are so high I will probably trip on the red carpet. They are already hurting my feet.”
He looked down at the shoes and followed my leg up. “But they make your legs look so good.” I smiled and sat back. Disappoint, maybe not. Embarrass, maybe. Brandt grabbed onto my hand, lending me his strength as I sat back in the seat and watched the night sky through the car window.
The limo ride took longer than I thought but I needed the extra time to wind down. It helped but not enough because when we waited in line to be dropped off, I could see the crowd and felt my anxiety rise again. Brandt watched me instead of the crowd, gauging my reaction. The tinted dark widows of the limo didn’t allow onlookers to see in, but it didn’t stop them from cheering and hollering. When it was our turn next to get out, I felt as though I wanted to run from the car. Brandt sensed it too.
“Chelsea there is no reason to be this nervous.” I looked at him like he sprouted two noses.
“But Brandt, everyone will be looking at me.”
His expression turned to tenderness as soft words fell from his lips, “No, Chelsea. They will be staring at me. Wondering what kind of lucky son of a bitch gets to have such a beautiful woman on his arm.” I melted. He said the same sentiment back in Wisconsin alerting me to the fact he would be there for me. How lucky was I to have a guy who wanted me on his arm?
The limo stopped, and Louis got out to open the door. Brandt looked at me one more time, and I smiled and nodded. He nodded back, and we stepped out to screaming fans and the flash of camera lights blinding me. Brandt took it in stride, accustomed to the limelight both at these events and on stage in front of thousands. I concentrated on staying upright on my high heels, thinking tonight was not the night for these shoes regardless of what they did for my legs.
Brandt waved and held out his arm for me. I put my arm around him, and he led me in the direction of the red carpet and the door of the banquet hall. Before we got anywhere near the door, we were stopped several times by reporters asking for an interview or photo. Relieved, the photographers asked for a picture of him solo not caring who the girl on his arm was.
Schmoozing with the reporters, flirting just enough with the women while finding respect with the guys, he was amazing to watch. There were several questions about the band, the award for tonight, and the upcoming album. Once finished, he would grab my hand and go to the next reporter to answer the same questions, never letting on to the monotony.
Brandt would occasionally skirt the question of who he brought with him, playfully calling me his ‘friend,’ keeping his playboy persona, making me feel it could work to keep my anonymity. I was a friend, nothing more. They expected him to bring someone and I wouldn’t be much of a threat to his philanderer image tonight.
Caught in the last reporters snare, they brought me into a picture with Brandt and even asked me who designed my dress. Not knowing what to say I blurted out, “Brandt picked it out for me. I have no idea.” They all laughed like it was the funniest thing, the thought of a woman not having a clue.
Once inside the hall, I exhaled a sigh of relief. Things seemed less chaotic without all the lights flashing and people screaming, but another type of chaos ensued inside. I couldn’t help but be in awe. Music legends flanked the hall as this award show encompassed more than rock. I recognized people my parents listened too when I was young talking with people from some of the house parties I attended. These people cleaned up nice, I guessed. From watching their raunchy behavior to being in black tie, it seemed weird. These couldn’t be the same people having sex in a room and then swapping partners at a moment’s notice?
Every time the door opened, another musician would enter from the midst of screams and flashing lights. Brandt led me by the small of my back to an open area meant as a reception spot before we piled in the banquet hall. Much to my relief, I spotted Hailey and Dex. She walked up to me excitedly. “Chelsea, you look amazing.”
She hugged me, and I crooned back at her. “Not as amazing as you.” She wore a bright yellow gown that matched her skin tone and hair perfectly. It dipped down to expose cleavage but in a sophisticated way. The dress flowed around her slim figure and rippled as she walked and made her look like a classic, eloquent actress.
Dex walked up behind her and grabbed her ass. As usual, he had no cultural integrity. Although she smiled, I could tell she didn’t enjoy being groped at an event of this stature. Dex, even though he was cleaned up and in a tuxedo, looked disheveled and bored already. His band was up for more than one award, and he didn’t seem to care.
We were all talking in a group as some members of Dex’s band joined us, all except for Austin. He would most likely be here, but I couldn’t see him and made sure to keep my distance tonight. I knew Brandt’s jealous tendencies toward him and wanted tonight to be perfect for Brandt.
Brandt and Dex walked away towards the bar and left Hailey with me to talk about gossip involving members of the crowd. Who was getting divorced and who just came out of rehab. I couldn’t keep track of it even if I wanted to completely star struck. This was what my boyfriend did for fun? Really? This was just Brandt, but I had to remember that he was famous. It made me strengthen my reserve to not screw it up for him. We needed to be more careful about further pictures of the two of us together. His fame would continue to grow and I would not hinder it.
“What is wrong?” Hailey could see the wheels turning in my head.
"Hailey, I was pictured with Brandt tonight for the first time on purpose. I need to make sure it doesn’t happen regularly.” She nodded and looked a little gloomy at me. Hailey understood the business more than I did. She knew how important it was for me to help his career, not hurt it. “I guess I have to lie low for a while.”
Since I would not be going to house parties with him, I was not sure if I wanted to sit at home and hope he wasn’t getting drunk or stoned enough to forget about me or worse, drive home like that. Hailey looked at me and put her arm around my shoulders, “One day it won’t matter. Brandt is crazy about you.” I couldn’t help but like her with her trying to cheer me up.
Hailey quickly beamed and looked at me. “I know, we could go out to the clubs.”
I turned towards her with a look of concern, “We would still be noticed.”
She shook her head. “Not if you go in at different times and happen to meet up there. Could even throw the trail off the reporters. Besides, Brandt could see his friends and still be there with you.” It made sense. I promised to think about it and call her during the week. The ruse could work and was at least worth a try.
Chelsea seemed tense all week. The day of the awards show she was extra nervous and made me just as nervous. And I would be the one going up in front of the TV audience if we won the award, not her. It prevented me from spending too much time around her as I needed to calm down a little.
When she appeared at the top of the staircase, she took my breath away. The dark satiny material hugged her slender body but still gave it a shimmering effect when she moved. And those shoes. Stilettos. They made her legs look powerful under the rippling of the surrounding dress and I knew she would look good in them. Her hair framed her face in soft waves, not too overdone, much like her makeup. She kept her face a more natural style and it suited her. She could have gone without and still looked amazing. The dress made it impossible to wear a bra too. Not the only reason I picked it out for her but on the top five. Her breasts were perky, and I knew I would be able to watch them all night.
Chelsea indulged me by going with me tonight. She loved me, and I couldn’t help but be thankful that she was mine. What joy it brought me in a life where I didn’t always know where I belonged.
The fact our band had been invited tonight made me feel on top of the world but to have her with me to experience it? Well, I felt like Superman, so in love with her, it hurt sometimes. Now was one of those moments.
Chelsea and Hailey were talking about fashion or something like that, and I felt it was reasonable leaving her with a friend so I could get us something to drink. I thought a drink would at least loosen her up a little. Dex came with me to the bar area and ordered a couple of shots for himself. He offered one to me, but I shook it off.
“Maybe you should take it easy tonight there, Dex.” The sound came from behind me, and I turned to see Austin settle into the bar stool by me. Dex shrugged and blew him off, downing the two glasses without even tasting them.
I turned my attention to Austin. “Good luck tonight.”
He seemed a little taken back with my goodwill but then smiled. “Good luck to you too.”
I waved the bartender back over. “Can I get you a drink?” He nodded, and when the bartender came over, he asked for whiskey and water.
Looking over at Chelsea, I made sure she was still talking to Hailey, keeping her comfort level tonight my priority. But I also felt as if I owed something to Austin. “Look, I wanted to thank you for helping me with Chelsea at the house party a couple of weeks ago.” I looked down at my drink thinking again of how I acted like an ass and came close to losing her. “She took ecstasy thinking I wanted her to relax more, and well, it turned out to be a mistake. She could have died and me along with her if you didn’t help us off that roof.”
He shrugged, “Anyone would’ve helped.”
I shook my head, “No. You were the only one to risk coming out of the window, and I want you to know I appreciate it.”
He seemed to accept my gratitude. “I know how much you care about her. You were the biggest player in town, and now you’re so pussy whipped it’s unreal.” I looked at him as a big smile spread across his face. He was giving me shit, and it reminded me of a long-ago time. Before the stardom. Before Cami and the jealousy. A time when we were just trying to keep our head above water and weren’t afraid to lean on each other.
“Well, I was never as big a player as you.”
He laughed, “You took north Hollywood, and I took the south.”
We laughed, and he grew silent. “I never meant it to be anything with Cami. We were drunk, and she told me you two had broken up. It meant nothing, and I am sorry.”
He seemed sincere, and I relaxed. It was a long time ago, and since I had Chelsea now, the whole thing seemed trivial. “It doesn’t seem as important anymore.” I looked over to Chelsea, and she saw me. She smiled, and I smiled back. “Look maybe we could get together soon and jam out like old times.”
He smiled, “Yeah, that would be great.” I held out my hand, and we shook.
Grabbing Chelsea’s glass of wine, I headed back over, kissing her cheek when I got to her. The thought didn’t escape me that Chelsea had rubbed off on me. She was bound to turn me into a gentleman sooner or later.
As I returned to her side, she said, “What was that all about?”
I shrugged, “Just thinking the past is the past. I mean, I have all I could want right at this moment.” It was true, and if it made me a love-sappy, pussy whipped, social hermit, well as long as Chelsea stayed beside me, it wouldn’t upset me too much.
The hall doors opened, and I led Chelsea in by placing my hand on the small of her back. Oh, how I loved to touch her there. I felt her relax when I did, and the feel of her body as she moved underneath my hand excited me. We found our table and the rest of the band as well sitting by their dates. We invited Ron to sit with us, but he wanted the respect of the higher-ups in the recording industry so he chose better people to adorn. Didn’t matter as he was at least here to see us win. The win tonight was just as much his victory as ours.
JJ and Quade had dates I hadn’t met before, so introductions were made, but Ryder had invited Ana, a local escort. Ryder always had a certain appreciation of a hired woman of the night. Ana was at least one of the top escorts, good eye candy, and never expected more than her nightly fee.
The dinner at these events never took long. People didn’t eat much when they were anxious to get the show going. As it was, the show dragged on rather long. It made for a long night with the after-parties. I planned to bring Chelsea to the most popular one. In the past, I would try to crash as many as I could but with her already overwhelmed, and the way she looked tonight, it made me want to get her home and under me as soon as possible.
Leaning into Chelsea, I explained how the rest of the night would go, not at all like the way you saw it on TV. This I learned from the last awards show. The real stuff started later after the little-known awards went first. That was why they had to start the show so damn early. It drove me nuts waiting. Chelsea took the opportunity to go to the bathroom. As I pointed to the closest door to her, I watched her leave and saw other guys watching her as well. Oblivious to the physical attraction she spurned in others, she didn’t even notice, but I did.
In the bathroom, I wanted to splash water on my face to cool me down, but then I thought of my makeup and ruled against it. I didn’t know what I would do if he won the award and I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t. He had worked so hard and if only they would see the amount of effort he put into every small detail, he would be a shoo-in for sure.
When he couldn’t sleep, he went to the soundproof studio and worked on songs. As he tired, and his mind mellowed, he adjusted the melody to match his mood. And when he got excited and restless, he went over every word and inflection to his singing with a fine-tooth comb. He worked on his stage show when he could and came up with new pyrotechnics to try as well, and even when to put in the drum and guitar solo for the rest of the bandmates. There were constant changes bouncing around in his head on how to enhance the experience for his fans and damn it, he deserved this award.
If he was nervous, he hid it from me rather well. It didn’t matter as I was nervous enough for both of us but amazed at how cool he kept his thoughts and actions. It made me think of him talking to Austin. You could tell they were old friends now and I thought it bothered him not to be able to talk with Austin civilly, at least in passing. I didn’t know how much mending could happen tonight, but I was glad to see a start.
After using the facilities, I entered the main area by the bar to notice Austin still sitting on the same barstool as he had been previously. I found it strange he stayed back and didn’t go into the main banquet area, so I went up to him.
“Austin, why aren’t you in there?” He had his back to me, and when he turned around, he brightened.
“Nerves, I guess.”
“So, you sing in front of thousands of people a night, and this makes you nervous?”
He laughed, “Hard to believe, huh. I think it’s the fact I am here with all my idols around me. Makes me feel like I could make an ass out of myself.” Funny how I wasn’t the only one to feel that way, and I slumped down next to him on a stool.
“I thought I was the only one to feel out of place tonight.” Laughing at my confession, he smiled. “Look. You’re a good singer. If you weren’t, Diversion wouldn’t be up for all those awards. Give yourself a little credit. Besides, your family must be so proud.” After the last statement, his face fell making me think I said something wrong.
“I don’t have a family.”
Slowly, I met his eyes again. I didn’t understand but wanted to. “Are you adopted?”
He shook his head. “No. Not like Brandt. I had a mother. She died.”
“Oh, I am sorry.”
He shrugged, “It’s all right. It was a long time ago.” The way he told me about it weighed heavily on my mind as if he wasn’t over it even though it happened a while back.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
He looked at me and shrugged. “Not much to say. Mental disease... took her own life.”
My heart fell, “Austin, that must’ve been hard on you. How old were you?”
“Fifteen.” He looked uncomfortable with the topic of our discussion. “You know, I don’t really want to talk about it. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
I felt as though he needed it. Needed to get it off his chest. I got the feeling he didn’t talk about it much, if at all, and needed to vent.
I didn’t want him to clam up so when he got up to leave the area, I blurted out, “My cousin was a casualty of mental illness too.” He turned and looked at me. “He was older than me but what I remember is that he hung himself in my uncle’s barn. My uncle never recovered and blamed himself for not putting more of an effort to understand him.” Austin didn’t say anything, but there was a slight nodding to his head. “They diagnosed my cousin bipolar. What a hard diagnosis on him and the family.”
“That’s what my mother had.” He came and sat back down, and we talked.
It turned out Austin had to deal with her mood swings. The highs when she was a fun, carefree mother but would waste all their money on drugs and clothes to the low where she wouldn’t leave her room for days. It all boiled up inside of him until he couldn’t take it anymore. He yelled at her to act her age and be a grown-up, and soon after he found her dead from a self-inflicted overdose.
“I guess you had to grow up fast.”
He gave a slow contorted chuckle, “Yeah. You could say that. It pushed me to make the band work.”
“And you’re still nervous?” He looked at me with wonder. “You who have lived through all of that gives one shit about what these people think of you?”
He shook his head, “Chelsea--”
I didn’t let him finish, “You’ve been through way more than anyone here and do not need anyone’s recognition now do you?”
He looked at me and smiled, “I guess not.”
I got a little more excited than I intended but didn’t care, “Of course not. You are an amazing musician and worked hard to deserve that award. Now go in there and give the best acceptance speech ever. You know you’ll win, right?”
He looked at me and laughed, “Right,” I stood up and offered my arm, and he took it, laughing.
As we got to the door, he opened it for me. His table was farther to the center, so we parted as soon as we entered. Turning to the right, I gave him a knowing glance and walked to my area. What little strength I had, I wanted to give to him. He deserved it. I guess you never know a person’s story until you walk a mile in their shoes. Brandt leaned back and placed his hand on mine when I returned to the table. He looked at me briefly but focused on the performers explaining what I missed.
Looking around the table, my gaze focused back on Ana. It startled me when Ryder introduced us knowing she was a prostitute, and I felt a moment of condescension towards her for what she did. Now, I felt ashamed thinking of my thoughts from a minute ago. No more judging people. She made money offering her body, so what? There was a reason. One I didn’t agree with or maybe would never understand, but I couldn’t sit and judge people if I didn’t know their story.
Instead of focusing on my anxiety, I tried to just enjoy the night. And what a night it turned out to be. I was able to see some amazing acts and as it got closer to the award the band was up for, I felt Brandt’s excitement grow. When he won, I couldn’t contain my exhilaration. I jumped up and hugged him with all my might. The band left with him to accept it on stage and his speech was one that resonated with the entire crowd. He talked for the whole band, so it wasn’t specific to one person, but I felt a special tingle of delight as he mentioned extraordinary friends along the way. My pride in him shown in the way I tackled him when he returned to the table.
The rest of the night went fast. I forgot about the paparazzi and the TV crew, delighted just to be on Brandt’s arm. We went to the after-party hosted by the music television newsgroup. Broadcast as one of the hottest parties, I couldn’t help but envision this as what it must feel like going to the clubs with Brandt. Fans and stars engulfed him alike as I clung to him all night. He didn’t want me to leave his side, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
As the night wore on, I tired from the excitement. Brandt looked like he could go another week without sleep, so I tried to hide my exhaustion. He grabbed my hand and took me to a table of people. His face beamed with anticipation as he nodded to a woman sitting in the middle, and my face brightened as I realized her identity. Sophia.
She had beautiful, long dark hair with brown doe eyes, a slender face, and a shapely body shrouded in an incredible deep emerald green gown. The surrounding crowd looked at her with a sense of awe as she commanded a presence.
Sofia was a fast favorite of mine. Her songs were sweet and sentimental in a world of drugs and womanizing anthems. Brandt remembered his promise of introducing us when the time came. I wasn’t thinking about it tonight, but as we got near, she recognized him and made room on the couch for the two of us. Sitting so close to her, my nerves got the better of me again.
“You are Sophia. Oh, my God, I love your songs.” And then I blushed. Didn’t Brandt hear this a hundred times a night from crazed fans alike? I must sound like an idiot. She took it in stride though.
“You like my songs?” I named off songs and gushed how they made a difference in the world instead of the same old songs on the radio that portrayed frivolous ideals. I almost felt Brandt cringe next to me and I could have kicked myself. He must think I was acting like a crazed fangirl. I should end this before he became too embarrassed by me and I tried to make up for it.
“Brandt won an award tonight too. He is on his way to being legendary.” Beaming, I looked over at him proud.
Sophia just smiled and looked at Brandt. “He is quite the man, isn’t he?” I nodded and fawned over him some more. We talked for a while before saying our goodbyes and made for a different crowd. I couldn’t believe I got so starstruck and almost embarrassed Brandt in the process. I was no better than his love-sick groupies and think back to ‘walking a mile in their shoes,’ knowing I would be a little more understanding having to share Brandt with the world.
We didn’t stay too much longer. I found my way to Hailey to say my goodbyes before we left. I couldn’t wait to go to sleep after I jumped Brandt at home of course. He had relaxed his jacket, shirt, and tie but still looked so devilishly handsome I hungered for him. As I gave her a final hug, I searched for Brandt, catching a glimpse of him across the club talking to Sophia. He told me he knew her, but it wasn’t until I saw the two of them together, I realized their knowledge of each other could be intimate. I never asked, and he never mentioned, but the way they were close to each other and touching, told me they were more than friends.
Did Brandt have sex with every woman in California? I decided to let it go. This was his night and I had no right to ruin it for him. Besides, it was before me. Before us. But I couldn’t help thinking she might not be playing much on the house’s sound system anymore.